Tort Law

University sued in drunk-driving deaths because housing officer didn't report alleged domestic abuse

The parents of a young woman who died in a one-car crash soon after earning a bachelor’s degree last year have sued the University of California at Berkeley over the accident.

Their daughter, Milanca Lopez, 22, and her 6-year-old son might have survived, the suit contends, if a university housing official had complied with a federally mandated duty to report a claim that the young woman was being physically abused by her live-in boyfriend in their university housing on the Berkeley campus. A resultant probe might have interrupted the chain of causation leading to the accident, the suit asserts.

The university is asking a federal judge in San Francisco to dismiss the case. There is no proof a claim of abuse was made, the institution contends, and even if Lopez did complain to the housing official about her boyfriend, graduate student Jose Lumbreras, the university isn’t responsible for third-party criminal conduct, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Lumbreras was driving when the vehicle hit a tree, killing Lopez and her son, Xavier Chevez, and he is now serving time for vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.

However, there is arguably a causal connection between the failure to report claimed abuse, if such a claim was in fact made by Lopez, and the accident, according to the suit. And, it says, housing coordinator Cephas John was required to initiate an investigation under safety regulations imposed by Title IX and the Clery Act, but didn’t do so.

John sparked the suit when he emailed Lopez’s mother, after the young graduate’s death, to share his memories of her. Among them: Lopez had called him not long before the May 2012 accident to tell him about “about a domestic violence incident” but then told him “everything’s OK” when he called back, the suit says.

See also:

Daily Californian: “Parents of UC Berkeley student killed in drunk driving accident file lawsuit”

Daily Californian: “Lawsuit criticizes university’s handling of alleged domestic abuse”

San Jose Mercury News: “UC Berkeley grad student sent to prison for killing two in drunken driving accident”

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