Sinister Omission Hauls School Dean to Court

     (CN) – Nearly two years after a drunken driver killed her mother, a Wisconsinite learned that the university dean who counseled her had a sinister connection to the crash, she claims in court.
     Megan Mengelt says she was a freshman at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, when a drunken driver killed her mother, Maureen, on April 7, 2013.
     It was a Sunday afternoon, Mengelt says, and her mother had been jogging in Sun Prairie. Bruce Burnside, the driver, had been distracted by “a lengthy exchange of text messages” when he struck Maureen, according to the complaint filed last week in Dane County Circuit Court.
     Mengelt says an assistant dean at her school, Tori Richardson, reached out to her via email in the day after her loss to offer his condolences and soon “developed an ongoing counseling relationship” with her.
     Believing that their relationship was one of confidence and trust, Mengelt says she opened up to Richardson when he asked “about the progress of the ongoing criminal litigation involving Bruce Burnside, and potential civil litigation being contemplated by the plaintiff’s family as a result of her mother’s death.”
     It took 20 months for Mengelt’s family to obtain police reports on the crash, according to the complaint.
     Mengelt says it turned out that Burnside had been texting with Richardson, the school dean, in the moments before he killed her mother.
     “If the plaintiff had any idea whatsoever that Richardson was a person with whom Burnside was engaged in a texting conversation at the time of Maureen Mengelt’s death, the plaintiff would not have chosen to have any contact whatsoever with Richardson,” the complaint states.
     Mengelt says she suffered emotional distress upon learning Richardson’s connection to the crash, and that the dean was negligent in trying to counsel her.
     “The plaintiff relied upon the representations of Richardson in interacting and communicating with him, including her disclosure to him of information she would otherwise have kept confidential regarding the ongoing criminal and potential civil litigation,” the complaint states.
     Though the complaint names Richardson himself as a defendant, Mengelt says the University of Wisconsin, Madison, is liable for his negligence. University spokesman John Lucas said the school had not yet received a copy of the lawsuit and therefore could not comment on it.
     Mengelt seeks to hold whatever company insured Richardson and/or the university liable.
     She is represented by Eric Ryberg with Habush, Habush & Rottier in Madison.

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