Top Massachusetts court clears MIT in student suicide lawsuit
Court upheld the dismissal of a suit brought by the student’s father, who contended the university should have prevented his son’s death
Massachusetts’ highest court on Monday upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit by a parent who said that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology should have prevented a PhD candidate from killing himself, but the court did rule that universities in some circumstances must take steps to prevent student suicides.
The Supreme Judicial Court unanimously upheld the dismissal of a closely watched lawsuit by the father of Han Nguyen, 25, who killed himself by jumping from the top of a campus building in 2009. The court found that the student never told any university employee he planned to commit suicide.
In the 5-0 ruling, Justice Scott Kafker wrote that a university only has a duty to prevent suicides when it knows a student either had previously tried to take his or her life or had stated a plan to do so.
“It is definitely not a generalized duty to prevent suicide,” Kafker wrote. “Nonclinicians are also not expected to discern suicidal tendencies where the student has not stated his or her plans or intentions to commit suicide.”
A lawyer for Nguyen’s father had argued in court papers that MIT and its employees owed a duty of care to Nguyen, yet officials at the school did nothing despite knowing he was a suicide risk.
The case was closely watched by other universities. Harvard University and Tufts University filed supporting papers arguing that a ruling against MIT would unreasonably require non-clinical faculty and staff to secure students against harming themselves.
MIT and a lawyer for Nguyen’s father did not immediately respond to requests for comment.