University Sued for Gruesome Attack by Deranged Student
A student at Morgan State University in Baltimore is suing the school after he was attacked by another student with a baseball bat.
Joshua Ceasar, 23, claims that the university should have recognized “escalating warning signs” that Alexander Kinyua was dangerous and posed a threat to other students.
Kinuya pummeled Ceasar last spring with a barbed wire-covered bat in a beating that left the victim partially blind.
Ceasar says the school failed to act after Kinyua posted a series of violent messages on social media and was implicated in various outbursts including punching holes in walls and throwing rocks at windows.
“In the six months leading up to the attack, Morgan State ignored the escalating warning signs that Mr. Kinyua was unstable and violent and posed a threat to others,” the lawsuit says, noting that one instructor had called him a “Virginia Tech waiting to happen.”
Immunity for the State?
Kinyua is currently in a psychiatric institution after pleading guilty but not criminally responsible for the bat attack. In a macabre twist, he is also facing charges for killing another man and eating his heart and brain, although for now he is considered unfit to stand trial.
The details for the lawsuit are lurid, but the plaintiff has a major obstacle to overcome: Morgan State is a public university, one subject to the Maryland Tort Claims Act that limits claims against public employees to $200,000.
“They are certainly entitled to the sovereign immunity doctrine,” says Ronald V. Miller Jr., a personal injury attorney with the Law Offices of Miller & Zois. “The plaintiff claims they ignored escalating warning signs, which might be bad behavior, but that’s just general negligence as I see it.”
For the state to waive immunity, generally an employee who caused damages would have to have been acting outside the scope of official duties, or acting with malice to cause intentional harm.
“There are certain civil rights exceptions but nothing that seems to be applicable here,” Miller says.
Echoes of Murder
Maryland’s neighbor, Virginia, found itself in a similar situation following the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech University. During the attack, a gunman killed two people in a dorm room, then two hours later rampaged through an academic building, murdering 30 more people before taking his own life.
The state offered $11 million to be divided between the families of the 32 people killed. However, two families filed lawsuits instead of accepting the money, seeking $10 million from the state and alleging gross negligence on the part of Virginia Tech for not acting sooner to alert students of the initial shootings.
The plaintiffs argued that university officials should not be covered by the state’s Tort Claims Act for a variety of reasons, among them that the schools are not fully funded by state money, and that the president serves on a number of corporate boards, which would not be allowed for most government officials.
However, while a jury did award $8 million between the two families, the judge swiftly reduced the damages to $100,000, consistent with the immunity law.
The litigation is still ongoing, as the state Supreme Court ruled in February that Virginia could appeal the verdicts, while the families were denied an appeal to include university president Charles Steger as an individual defendant.
The Maryland plaintiff will have to make quite a legal argument to avoid running into a similar cap problem. However, there could be another pot of money at stake, notes Steven D. Silverman, managing partner of Silverman Thompson Slutkin White, who is representing Ceasar in the lawsuit. “If the university carries private liability insurance,” he says, “than we can recover up to that amount.”