Failure of Colleges to Help Suicidal Students May Lead to Wrongful Death Claims
As a Virginia personal injury attorney I have noticed that, although many young men and women suffer from suicidal thoughts, Virginia colleges and universities may not be doing enough to help their most vulnerable students.
It’s not widely known, but failure to provide assistance to students who are outwardly showing suicidal symptoms may justify a wrongful death claim. Nevertheless, these cases are rare. Nance Roy of the Jed Foundation, a nonprofit that works to prevent suicides on campus, said as many as 1,100 college students kill themselves every year, in a Boston Globe article. However, only a small number of cases are brought. She said it’s vital for faculty, other staff, and students to encourage those at risk to seek counseling.
An open and honest discussion regarding student suicides needs to be had in light of the ever-growing list of these tragic stories. According to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, suicide is a leading cause of death among college students. In the first four months of 2015, four students at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg had committed suicide. Eight students have taken their lives in Williamsburg since 2010. In light of these alarming circumstances, we must ask whether Virginia’s educational institutions are doing enough.
In recent years, there has been a positive movement at colleges and universities toward the recognition for greater mental health awareness. However, awareness without action provides no assistance to those students who are suffering from suicidal depression. Colleges and universities, unfortunately, create an atmosphere that fuels mental health illness. With its rigorous academic and social pressures, college lifestyle only intensifies the struggles for students with mental health disabilities. More needs to be done to reach those students who exhibit suicidal symptoms. Systems must be put in place so that no young man or woman’s cry for help goes unheard by the college or university whose fundamental purpose is to nurture, educate and protect the well-being of its students.
This year The Boston Globe reported on how the family of an MIT doctoral student who took his life in 2009 has filed a lawsuit against the university, two of its professors, and an associate dean, alleging officials failed to do enough to help the student even though they had shared concerns about his mental well-being for months.
The lawsuit, filed in 2011, advanced this year toward a possible trial when a Middlesex Superior Court judge denied MIT’s request to dismiss the wrongful-death claim on a technicality. The college claimed the young man should legally be classified as an employee, thereby limiting its liability for the death, because he also worked as a research assistant.
The lawsuit alleged one professor called the student to scold him about an “imprudent e-mail he sent to another faculty member” who was considering him for a research position. Minutes after receiving the email, the student leaped to his death from a college campus building.
If you have a family member or child who died from suicide on a Virginia or North Carolina college or university campus, it is important to analyze the actions of the institution in an effort help others in a similar situation, and to ensure that the appropriate people are held responsible if they failed to provide assistance when it was clearly needed. You are not alone in this fight. The lawyers at Cooper Hurley Injury Lawyers are here to answer your questions about a possible wrongful death claim or investigation and assist in any manner we can. Call us at 757.455.0077 for a free consultation.