Should a university be responsible for a student’s suicide if the institution is at fault? The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has to decide.
Earlier this month, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court heard arguments on both sides of the case of the 2009 suicide of a 25-year old PhD student.
The student’s advisers and professors—including two of the defendants –knew that the student, who jumped from the roof of a building, had mental health issues.
The student’s family is suing the school for wrongful death, claiming that the university employees knew of the student’s mental health issues and should have taken steps to prevent him from killing himself.
In a recent article on WBUR, Jeffrey Beeler, the attorney representing the student’s family said that the students “was well known to this school to be at risk of student suicide.”
The student sought help on campus in 2007, but opted to receive his mental health care off-campus.
Universities nationwide are watching the case. A group of 18 Massachusetts schools filed a brief urging the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to reject the case because college and university employees are not trained mental health clinicians. They argue that making schools responsible for securing students against suicidal behavior may have a “chilling effect” on students with mental health issues.
Kevin Martin, the lawyer for the student’s school in the case said, “No court has recognized a special relationship duty to protect somebody from their own self-inflicted harm. Society does not expect, for example, a landlord to protect a tenant from committing suicide in their own apartment building.”
Stay tuned for updates.
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