'Nuisance' suits; a costly scam to UA

By Joseph Barrios

Arizona Daily Wildcat

About four or five years ago, a UA student was washing clothes in her residence hall when water pipes backed up.

Although the clothes were not ruined, the student filed a claim against the university for $1.25 because she had to wash her clothes again. She won.

About 500 claims are filed every year against the university because of personal injury or property damage that occurred on campus or during a university activity, said Alan Lee, a University of Arizona insurance officer who remembers the $1.25 claim.

But anywhere from 6 to 12 "nuisance" claims are filed a year where the university thinks it has no responsibility for damage or injury that occurred, Lee said.

"We get lengthy expositions. I did this, and that caused this: 'If I didn't choose to come to the University of Arizona, I would have never been hiking and I would have never broken my leg,' kind of thing. Those things are rejected very readily," Lee said.

When a claim is filed, the university can choose to accept the claim and pay damages, investigate the incident or simply deny it. If a claim is denied, the filer of the claim can choose to hire a lawyer and sue.

Lee said the university is willing to settle a case as long as it thinks there is proof the university was responsible.

About two years ago, a student filed a claim with the university because she tripped on uneven sections of sidewalk cement. The student suffered no permanent injury and the state settled by agreeing to re-pour the section of cement, Lee said.

Steve Holland, UA Risk Management & Safety director, said claims against the university and the state can appear frivolous until facts are gathered. If there is any possibility the university is responsible for injury or damage to personal property, an investigation will take place.

University Attorney Thomas Thompson said the university is a target defendant because of a large budget and a large physical space. Thompson said there is simply a lot of opportunity for accidents to occur and people to file a claim.

"People call it a nuisance claim. They're no different from any other lawsuit," Holland said.

Holland cited a case in the mid-1980's where a student fell off the roof of Centennial Hall. An investigation revealed the student scaled a tree and used it to climb onto the roof. The student was awarded damages. It was ruled the university had an obligation to prune or remove trees that could be used to climb onto buildings.

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