An explosion rocked the UC Berkeley campus on Monday night, causing students to be evacuated and leaving at least five people injured.
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the blast left one person hospitalized and at least four others with minor injuries. University of California, Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof speculated that the explosion was caused by "a copper theft in Berkeley last week."
What kind of liability could the university potentially face from the explosion?
Explosion Causes Burns
The Berkeley blast was preceded Monday by a power outage and then an ammonia leak, culminating in an explosion that was "two stories high and as wide as a two-lane street."
According to Fox News, the explosion occurred in an underground utility vault outside of the school's California Hall, while crews were attempting to restore power to the campus.
The extent of injuries to the hospitalized victim are yet unreported, but based on prior explosion cases, the injuries could have been much worse.
When an explosion occurs, courts are typically willing to assume that the injuries caused by the blast were due to negligence, because explosions just don't happen as a result of everyday life. UC Berkeley can try to prove in court that they were not responsible for the explosion, but the burden of proof will be on the school, not the victims.
What Caused the Explosion?
According to United Press International, Mogulof explained that this was no ordinary accident; someone "attacked [UC Berkeley's] system" and stole key components, including copper wire, he said.
Copper piping and wire are often the target of theft for their high resale value, but it is unclear how the theft of these components will be tied to the explosion.
UC Berkeley may be able to prove that the superseding cause of the explosion was this theft of wire. This may not get the institution completely off the hook for the victims' injuries and burns, however, as UC Berkeley can potentialy be held liable under premises liability for any poor security that may have allowed the theft.
It's not yet clear whether the explosion victims intend to pursue litigation. As of Tuesday morning, 11 buildings on the Berkeley campus remained without power, according to the school's chancellor.