Kristin Smart’s family sues Cal Poly in wrongful death suit, says university partly responsible for her murder

The family of Kristin Smart filed a civil complaint against California Polytechnic State University for negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and wrongful death.

The family of California college student Kristin Smart, who vanished more than two decades ago, is persuing a wrongful death lawsuit against California Polytechnic State University, alleging that the university is partly responsible for her death.

“Paul Flores took Kristin’s life,” Denise Smart said in an exclusive interview with The Tribune in May. “Cal Poly took ours.”

A public apology from the university opened the floodgates for Stan and Denise Smart, who allegedly were not aware that the university may have additional information about their daughter’s 1996 death, lawyers for the Smart family said.

“[W]e recognize that things should have been done differently – and I personally wish that they had,” Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong said in a May 2023 apology, marking the first public apology from the university.


Marc Lewis, one of Smart’s lawyers, told The Tribune that it appeared to the devastated parents that Cal Poly had been “sitting on information” for decades, in regard to their daughter’s murder.

“It really wasn’t until that apology came out that the family began to understand Cal Poly’s failings,” Lewis told the local paper. “We don’t know what information the president had in his possession to make that apology, and it appears to us that Cal Poly has been sitting on information and keeping it from the Smart family for decades.”

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Following the university’s apology, the Smarts decided to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit. 

The family is suing the university for negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress and wrongful death. The family did not request a specific sum in damages as part of the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges that the university did not, “pursue a missing person case promptly, did not interview witnesses timely, did not seal the primary suspect’s room as a crime scene, allowed the suspect’s room to be sanitized and cleaned before it was searched, and did not search the suspect’s room until 16 days after Kristen’s disapearance.” 

The lawsuit also alleges Cal Poly could have prevented her murder if several other incidents of harassment reported about Paul Flores were investigated and disciplined appropriately. 

The lawsuit calls the university’s actions “indefensible,” saying “it must be held accountable to prevent this cycle of callous negligence from ever occurring again.


The family argued that Kristen’s death was “not just a statistic,” and that their lawsuit hopes to “demand accountability” from Cal Poly.

“While President Armstrong’s acknowledgment of their failings is a step in the right direction, it cannot erase the pain and injustice we have endured,” the family said in a statement to The Tribune. “Kristin was not just a statistic; she was a vibrant6, intelligent young woman with a promising future. We cannot bring Kristin back, but we can demand accountability and ensure no other family suffers the same fate.”

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Smart was a student at Cal Poly’s San Luis Obispo campus in 1996 when she was allegedly heavily intoxicated with Paul Flores after an off-campus party on Crandall Way. She was walked back from the party by three people – a man, a woman and Flores. The others slowly peeled off after Flores allegedly insisted multiple times that he could get Smart home safely. 

She was never seen again. 

In 2002, she was declared legally dead. 

Flores was conivcted of her murder in 2022. He was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. 

His father, Ruben Flores, was found not guilty of being an accessory after the fact by a separate jury. 

The Smart family lawyers and California Polytechnic University did not immediately respond to Fox News Digital’s requests for comment.

Fox News Digital’s Greg Norman contributed to this report.

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