MIT Cleared of Negligence After Student’s Suicide

BOSTON (CN) – The father of a graduate student who killed himself nearly a decade ago reached the end of the line Monday in his fight to hold the Massachusetts Institute of Technology liable.

Han Duy Nguyen had been in his third year at MIT’s Sloan School of Management when on June 2, 2009, the 25-year-old jumped from the roof of a laboratory building.

Two years later father Dzung Duy Nguyen brought a suit against MIT for negligence.

The Middlesex Superior Court sided with MIT at summary judgment, however, and the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court affirmed that ruling Monday.

“In sum, Nguyen never communicated by words or actions to any MIT employee that he had stated plans or intentions to commit suicide, and any prior suicide attempts occurred well over a year before matriculation,” Associate Justice Scott Kafker wrote for the court

The 44-page ruling says parties can make the case that universities are responsible for the mental health and emotional well-being of their students, but in the case of Nguyen the school did what it could for the student.

“Nonclinicians are also not expected to discern suicidal tendencies where the student has not stated his or her plans or intentions to commit suicide,” Kafker wrote. “Even a student’s generalized statements about suicidal thoughts or ideation are not enough, given their prevalence in the university community. The duty is not triggered merely by a university’s  knowledge of a student’s suicidal ideation without any stated plans or intentions to act on such thoughts.”

A group of 18 colleges from throughout eastern Massachusetts intervened in the case, taking MIT’s side that it was not responsible for Nguyen’s death.

The ruling notes that Nguyen met with his MIT advisers early on about difficulty he was experiencing in his classes over testing. He claimed that he understood the material, but that the intensity of exams was too much for him to handle.

MIT offered Nguyen remedial services and handicapped accommodations, which he turned down. He also rejected the school’s offer for mental health services, preferring to rely on off-campus medical professionals.

Two hours before his death, Nguyen sent a contentious email to his adviser explaining that he was offended by what he felt was the adviser’s questioning of his ability.

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