Massachusetts High Court Rules MIT is Not Responsible for Student’s Suicide

Charlotte Personal Injury Attorney Matt Arnold answers the question: “Are the laws or rules applying to a wrongful death claim different from a personal injury not involving death?”


A recent case decided by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court was watched by many in anticipation of a ruling. The Court’s ruling could impact universities all around the country. A wrongful death suit against a university and some of its staff would determine the liability a university faces in the event of suicide by one of their students.


university-pillar-Charlotte-Lake-Norman-Monroe-Injury-Law-Firm-300x213The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) will not be held liable for the suicide of a student in 2009, according to the New York Times. In addition to the institute itself not being responsible, two professors and a dean are not liable.


Han Nguyen was a PhD student at MIT when he committed suicide in 2009. Nguyen’s father brought forth a wrongful death suit in 2011 and the case was appealed all the way to the High Court. Nguyen had mental health issues for which he sought treatment, but not through MIT mental health officials. He did make a few visits to a MIT medical center, but found those unhelpful. Two professors knew that Nguyen was struggling with anxiety and other health issues at the time of his death.


The Court found that universities “are not responsible for monitoring and controlling all aspects of their students’ lives.” Furthermore, the tradition of a university standing in for the parent of students, in loco parentis, is long over.


Nguyen’s father claimed that two professors at MIT were aware that Nguyen had a fragile mental state. He claimed that one professor was the cause of the suicide because Nguyen committed suicide following harsh criticisms from one professor. MIT argued that the student had mental health issues before attending the university and Nguyen failed to use the mental health resources offered to students.


Courts across the country have been hesitant to hold faculty, administrators, and universities responsible for suicide by a student. Staff members are usually not clinically trained in suicide prevention. The court found that Nguyen had not made express statements of his intent to commit suicide, leaving the staff with no idea that he had such plans.


18 universities in Massachusetts supported MIT in their lawsuit, stating that if the court were to hold nonclinically trained staff liable for student suicides, chaos would ensue. While the court in this case did not hold the university or staff liable, the court suggested that there are instances in which a university, or its staff, could be held liable. Universities have a special relationship with students, and while a special duty regarding suicide prevention exists, this case did not fall within the circumstances of that duty, according to The Tech. Nguyen did not make express statements about suicide to anyone at the university and failed to seek out resources available from MIT.


If you believe your loved one’s death was caused by the negligence or wrongful act of another party, you might be entitled to compensation. The personal injury attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC are dedicated to obtaining the best financial recovery possible. Our attorneys know that the loss of a loved one is devastating and want to help lessen the financial burden that often accompanies a loss. Contact us Arnold & Smith, PLLC for a free consultation, call at 704-370-2828 or click here for additional resources.







The skilled personal injury attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC are dedicated to maximizing the financial recovery and obtaining justice for every personal injury client injured by another party’s negligence. The issues our personal injury clients may be facing include, but are not limited to, slip and fall injuries, wrongful death, product liability, catastrophic injuries, dog bite claims, car and truck accident injuries, motorcycle injuries, traumatic brain injury (TBI), nursing home negligence, spinal cord injury, boating accidents, and defective medical device injury. Our personal injury attorneys understand the devastating impact such an injury can have on a person’s life, and that the effects so often go beyond physical pain and suffering. The personal injury attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC are dedicated to helping clients determine the strength of their claims, and to aggressively pursuing the means necessary to achieve the best possible end result for each client’s particular situation.





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