Ontario court rules that students may sue universities in some instances

April 19, 2012

A recent decision by the Ontario Court of Appeal outlines the circumstance in which a student may sue a university for damages. The decision relates to lawsuits involving the University of Ottawa (over claims of inadequate thesis supervision) and York University (over allegations of failure to accommodate a student with a disability). At the root of both cases is implied contract, says an expert on university case law. Students may have a claim for damages if it can be shown that the institution did not deliver on its promises and if the claims refer to behaviour that exceeds universities' jurisdiction over their academic programs. The plaintiffs in both cases have been invited to amend their statement of claim to provide specific evidence of what the contracts and breaches were. As the courts shift toward a more commercial view of the university-student relationship, institutions should ensure they have clear documentation, says York U's general counsel. "We have always relied on the calendar and university policies as the closest thing to a contract that we have. It has not been seen as a business arrangement. But students, parents and courts are more consumer-oriented today," she says. "If people are struggling to get the money for tuition, they expect to get something for it -- their degrees." University Affairs