After a very thorough search of New York State statutes and case law,
I found no indication that alumni of private colleges in the state
have any special status in terms of a school's legal obligations
I did find two cases, however, with some tangential bearing on the
situation, both of them involving Cornell University.
But before summarizing these cases, please note the disclaimer at the
bottom of the page. Google Answers is neither a source nor a
substitute for professional legal advice, so please take everything
here with the appropriate grains of salt.
In the following case:
Nadine Lemoine v Cornell University
SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, APPELLATE DIVISION, THIRD DEPARTMENT
2 A.D.3d 1017; 769 N.Y.S.2d 313
December 11, 2003
Cornell was sued by someone injured when using the university's
During the suit, the plaintiff argued that the fact that Cornell
allowed non-students to use the wall -- including alumni -- changed
the nature of the institution from a primarily education institution
to that of a recreational facility.
The change would be important, as different laws would apply to a
recreational facility than to a school, and would create a different
set of legal obligations. However, the court rejected the argument,
and retained Cornell's status as primarily an educational institution,
even though alumni and others could use the rock-climbing wall.
Here is a relevant excerpt from the case:
"...In assessing whether a facility is instructional or recreational,
courts have examined, inter alia, the organization's name, its
certificate of incorporation, its statement of purpose and
whether...the money it charges is tuition or a fee for use of the
facility...Difficulties arise in this area of law in situations where
a person is injured at a mixed-use facility, namely, one which
provides both recreation and instruction...Here, plaintiff points out
that her enrollment in the class entitled her to a discounted fee rate
in the event that she sought use of the climbing wall on nonclass days
and, additionally, defendant allowed its students, alumni and
graduates of the rock climbing course to use the wall as long as they
paid the regular fee and watched the safety video..."
In this recent case:
Fils-Aime v. Ryder TRS, Cornell University, et al
SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, NASSAU COUNTY
2006 NY Slip Op 26010; 11 Misc. 3d 679; 809 N.Y.S.2d 434
January 11, 2006
a student at Cornell was involved in an automobile accident while
volunteering for certain activites. It is the student's status as a
volunteer that is central to the case, as the school has particular
policies in place pertaining to volunteers.
Since it is not clear from the description of your situation whether
you were in a similar situation (that is, as a volunteer) I thought
I'd write-up this case as well.
In essence, the outcome indicates that volunteers at a university,
explicitly including alumni, are included in policies the school may
have regarding indemnification and protections for volunteers. That
is, the school had a legal obligation to protect its volutneers (in
the event of a lawsuit, as happened here). In addition, such policies
are a legal commitment on the part of the university, similar, in
effect, to the commitments made when one obtains an insurance policy.
"...On this motion the Court must decide whether a private university
can be sued by one of its students for coverage under written policies
that offer a defense and indemnification to those who serve as
volunteers for the school. Under the circumstances present here, the
Court holds that it can.
This is an action for personal injuries in which the plaintiffs
allege, among other things, that defendant Matthew VerMilyea was
responsible for an August, 2001, accident...VerMilyea was a Cornell
student who had completed a summer job at a laboratory on Long Island,
and was in the process of transporting certain laboratory equipment
donated to Cornell by his summer employer back to the school when the
"...VerMilyea subsequently sued Cornell University...in a third-party
action when they refused to defend and indemnify for the claims made
against him...The key question is whether Cornell can be bound to
defend and indemnify VerMilyea under its own policies..."
"...VerMilyea relies on a stated Cornell policy to provide
indemnification to University volunteers. These are the written
University Volunteers and Legal Defense and Indemnification policy
statements... Insofar as is relevant here, the defense/indemnification
policy provides that Cornell will provide such coverage to unsalaried
"volunteers" who are acting on Cornell's behalf at the specific
request of authorized Cornell officials, in accord with the volunteers
policy...as a volunteer he occupies the same position as an alumnus,
retired employee, or, literally, "anyone" so serving, as the paragraph
of the policy entitled "Who May Volunteer" indicates..."
As is always the case in these things, the devil is in the details.
Therefore, it seems key in your situation to:
--clarify to yourself what you believe your status was at the
university. An employee? A volunteer? Some other sort of
relationship to the school?
--identify any existing policies at the school that may pertain to
your situation. In the volunteer case, above, the policy on
volunteers was posted on the school's website. If, in fact, you were
an employee, then a whole host of additional legal protections come
--Identify and quantify any damages you believe have been done...loss
of income, damage to your professional reputation, difficulty in
gettting employement, whatever...! If you are going to pursue a
grievance, it's important to be able to state what sort of damages you
believe have been inflicted on you.
I trust you will find this information useful to you in considering
your next moves.
If there is anything else I can do for you, please let me know by
posting a Request for Clarification.
All the best,
search strategy -- search of legal databases for laws and cases
involving universities in NY and alumni.