GW denies liability in music thefts

At least one music student has threatened to sue GW for the loss of an instrument in the recent rash of thefts from the music department. Risk Management officials maintain that the University is not responsible for the December thefts.

Senior Jenna Kwiatoski, whose $1,500 trumpet was stolen during winter break, said GW is responsible for her loss because the Department of Music provided the lock for her locker in the basement of the Academic Center.

“My lawyer told me that if I put something of mine on someone else’s property that is supposed to be safe, then if it is stolen they are responsible for replacing it, especially since I signed no contract with the school saying they weren’t liable,” Kwiatoski said.

On Wednesday, Kwiatoski said she contacted UPD but has not received a reply. She filed a report with UPD immediately after the instrument was stolen, on Jan. 14. Kwiatoski said she also plans to contact Risk Management about getting reimbursed.

Director of Risk Management Barry Dempsey said the only way GW would be liable for a student’s personal property would be if it was something the University “did or failed to do that caused the theft or damage.”

He placed full responsibility on the students.

“From what I know, where students had instruments in lockers in which
the students installed their own locks, the University would not be responsible,” Dempsey said.

Kwiatoski said University Band Director Ben Fritz gave her a combination lock. The locks are given to students in the University Band.

Students who do not belong to the band may rent lockers for the semester or the year, but must provide their own lock.

Kwiatoski said no one ever warned her about the possibility that the lockers were unsafe, and students did not sign a form waiving GW of liability for anything that occurred to the instruments while on University property. Kwiatoski said she kept her trumpet in the locker whenever she was not using it.

“If they are going to provide these lockers, then they should be safe,” Kwiatoski said. “For them to allow us to keep our instruments on school property and not reimburse us if they get stolen is absurd.”

Now, Kwiatoski said she carries her instrument with her from 12:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. on days when she has rehearsal, because she lives off campus and cannot return to her room to drop off the instrument.

Kwiatoski said she would “definitely” sue GW if the University refused to compensate her for her loss.

“It’s a matter of principle,” Kwiatoski said. “My things should be safe; I simply can’t replace it.”

GW associate law professor Robert Brauneis said this case would fall under the “law of bailment,” or a legal relationship created when a person gives property to someone else for safekeeping.

Georgetown law professor Richard Chused, an expert in property law, explained this law in simple terms.

“If you leave something with someone with the understanding that care will be taken for it, then the custodian of the object should be responsible for it,” he said.

Chused said GW should not provide locks in an area with a low level of security. UPD Director Dolores Stafford said she is considering increasing security in the area, including more security officers patrolling the area and possibly cameras.

“It’s very simple to put a lock protection on a room where instruments are stored,” Chused said.

Music students said the University has not done enough to protect their property.

“We need to have someone down there patrolling once in a while. We need better quality locks,” Kwiatoski said. “I’m willing to fight who I need to fight to get better security in the music department and to get better reimbursement for my trumpet.”

Dempsey said security cameras would not help to catch a person who might be stealing something from the music department.

“It’s probably going to be someone that we don’t know or can’t identify,” Dempsey said.

Dempsey said Risk Management, not UPD, would handle future security measures in the music department.

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