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Are School Shootings Foreseeable?  Can the School Premises be considered a “Dangerous Condition of Public Property” because a school shooting occurs?

You may or may not remember the tragic events that occurred on April 10, 2017.  On that date, Cedric Anderson entered his wife’s elementary classroom (a part of San Bernardino Unified School District) and shot and killed his wife, shot and killed one of her students, shot and injured a student, and then shot and killed himself, in front of the rest of the class.  Understandably, this was a very traumatic event for the students.  Several of them, through their guardians, filed suit against the San Bernardino Unified School District alleging negligence and a dangerous condition of public property.

The case raised the following questions:

  1. Was the school negligent in allowing this to happen?
  2. Did the school premises constitute a “dangerous condition of public property?”

At the trial court level, the District moved for summary judgment, arguing that it was unforeseeable that Anderson would commit the murder-suicide and thus they were not negligent in failing to protect against it.  They further argued that Government Code § 835 which provides the basis for a claim for “dangerous condition of public property” indicates that a dangerous condition cannot be the result of unforeseeable and inappropriate use of the property.  The plaintiffs argued that, because of the special relationship between the District and its students, there was a heightened duty of care, and that school shootings are, unfortunately, foreseeable.

The trial Court granted summary judgment, finding that the District was not negligent due to the unforeseeable nature of Anderson’s acts.  The Court further found that, as it relates to a dangerous condition of public property, spouses of teachers were generally allowed on campus unaccompanied and visitors who signed in at the front desk (as Anderson did) were permitted to be on campus – there was no dangerous condition of the property.

The students appealed, arguing that “adequate safeguards” would have prevented the death or injury of those inside the classroom.

On appeal, the 4th District Court of Appeal agreed that a special relationship exists between the District and its students and ultimately held:

  1. Because a schoolteacher had no reason to foresee her husband’s shooting attack on her at any place, it was not reasonably foreseeable, for purposes of a negligence claim under Gov. Code, § 815.2, that the attack would occur on school grounds such that the principal and school district should have envisioned its occurrence when implementing a safety plan as to spouses’ unaccompanied access to school grounds;
  2. The school district was not liable under Code, § 835, for a dangerous condition leading to the shooting on school property. Locking the front office door would not have affected the risk of harm faced by the teacher and her students because the husband was a known, trusted visitor at the school who properly signed in at the front desk as required.

(C.I. v. San Bernardino City Unified School District (Aug. 10, 2022, No. E076212) ___Cal.App.5th___ [2022 Cal. App. LEXIS 756, at *1].)

Mr. Serrano has been admitted to practice before California State and Federal Courts. He was named to the Super Lawyers’ 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016 Southern California Rising Stars List, an honor awarded to no more than 2.5% of attorneys in Southern California each year. View Attorney Jean-Simon Serrano's Attorney Bio Here.

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