Court Discusses Duties Massachusetts Colleges Owe to Students

Many students find college challenging and struggle to adapt and succeed. Tragically, some students feel as if they are unable to go on and ultimately die due to suicide. Whether a school that is aware of a student’s mental health struggles can be deemed liable for the student’s death by suicide was the topic of a recent Massachusetts opinion in which the court declined to grant the defendant’s motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s negligence claims. If you or your child suffered injuries while attending a college or university, you might be owed damages, and it is advisable to speak to a Massachusetts personal injury attorney to discuss your rights.

The Plaintiff’s Decedent’s Struggles and Untimely Death

It is reported that the plaintiff’s decedent began attending school at the defendant college when she was sixteen. Shortly after she arrived on campus, she advised a mental health counselor that she had a history of suicidal ideation and self-harm. Throughout her years of attendance, several reports were made regarding concern for her safety, and wellness checks were conducted. The counseling department was advised on several occasions that the decedent was abusing substances as well.

Allegedly, the defendant was also advised that the decedent was sexually assaulted, engaged in acts of self-harm and that she wrote a play in which the lead character ended her own life. The defendant never advised the decedent’s parents of any of the foregoing. The decedent was found dead one morning, and the manner of her death was determined to be suicide. The plaintiffs, the decedent’s parents, filed a lawsuit against the defendant alleging negligence and other claims. The defendant filed a motion to dismiss, arguing it did not owe the decedent a duty.

Duties Owed by Massachusetts Colleges

In its motion, the defendant argued that the plaintiff failed to allege facts sufficient to demonstrate that it owed the decedent a duty. The court disagreed. The court explained that under Massachusetts law, in certain circumstances, a university and student have a special relationship, and through that relationship, a duty arises in which the university must take reasonable measures to prevent the student from dying due to suicide.

Specifically, such a duty will be imposed where a school has actual knowledge of a student’s suicide attempt that happened before or during the student’s attendance at the school or when the student has verbalized intentions or plans to engage in suicidal acts. In such instances, the school has a responsibility to take reasonable steps to prevent the student from engaging in self-harm. In the subject case, the court found that the plaintiffs’ complaint more than adequately alleged that the defendant had notice of the decedent’s propensity to engage in self-harm. Thus, the court denied the defendant’s motion.

Speak to a Seasoned Massachusetts Personal Injury Attorney

Educational institutions owe certain duties to their charges, and in some cases, can be held liable for failing to prevent a student from suffering harm. If you were hurt while attending school, it is prudent to speak to an attorney about your possible claims. The seasoned attorneys of the Law Office of James K. Meehan are adept at helping people pursue damages in personal injury lawsuits, and if you hire us, we will work tirelessly to help you seek favorable results. You can reach us through our online form or at 508-822-6600 to schedule a meeting.