The student known as ‘SMA’ attended John XXIII College at the Australian National University. She was sexually assaulted by another student following a social evening known as ‘Pub Golf’ which took place on 6 August 2015.
The event involved the College residents moving to different venues or “golf holes” around the City where participants attempted to drink a certain number of drinks in order to make “par”. During the course of the evening SMA was sexually assaulted by another student in an alleyway outside of one of the venues.
SMA sued the College and was successful in the Supreme Court in 2020. The Court held that the College had breached its duty of care by directing students to leave the campus once they had commenced drinking.
The College was negligent for allowing Pub Golf to proceed given that it was “well aware of the appalling conduct that characterised the Pub Golf event, and others like it, but, by intended policy or feigned ignorance, condoned the conduct.”
The College was also negligent in their handling of SMA’s complaint following the assault. Damages were awarded in the total sum of $420,201.57, including exemplary and aggravated damages of $30,000.
The decision was appealed by the College on the basis that the claimant was 20 years or age and had willingly engaged in the event. It also contested whether the College were aware of and condoned the event as well as SMA’s level of intoxication when she left the College.
On 29 June 2022, the Court of Appeal upheld the earlier ruling of the Supreme Court but the damages awarded was reduced to $267,500 on the basis that lower Court had erred in finding that that causation was established in respect of the first breach of duty. SMA was ordered to pay some legal costs.
Even though the damages award was reduced on appeal the decision sends a strong message to Australian universities about their liability for students in their care. It is a decision that UK Universities equally should not ignore.