Massachusetts Wrongful Death Lawsuit Blaming MIT for Student’s Suicide Moves Closer to a Civil Trial

A Middlesex Superior Court judge has denied the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s request to dismiss the Cambridge, MA wrongful death case filed by the family of Han Duy Nguyen. The doctoral student, who suffered from mental health issues, killed himself in 2009. The plaintiffs, in their Cambridge, MA wrongful death case, are suing MIT for his suicide.

According to their complaint, Nguyen’s Sloan School of Management professors knew that he had mental health issues and would get very stressed out during exams, which is why they gave him more time to finish his tests. However, the plaintiffs allege, in 2009, minutes after a professor scolded Nguyen about a potentially offensive email that he sent to another faculty member he jumped from a campus building. His family says that the conversation drove him “over the edge.”Meantime, MIT and its professors have denied that they were responsible for Nguyen’s death or that they contributed to his mental health problems.

MIT has come under fire for its student suicide rate. The university even has a robust counseling program to help students cope.

The college argued that because Nguyen was a research assistant at the university, he was not just a student but also an employee. Therefore, they contend, MIT’s status as employer should limit its liability. Under Massachusetts workers’ compensation law, employees and their families cannot sue an employer for personal injury or wrongful death. They are, however, entitled to work injury benefits.

The plaintiffs’ wrongful death team is adamant that Nguyen was not an employee, and he killed himself not because he was a research assistant-a position that he had barely started-but because of the stress he experienced as a graduate student. Besides, noted their lawyer, MIT and other private schools have previously stated, to avoid having to pay more or unionize, that graduate students in teaching assistantships and who perform research are not employees. The university, on the other hand, said that Nguyen can be categorized as both student and employee.

The judge presiding over the case said that debate should be up to a jury to resolve.

According to the Boston Globe, Nancy Roy of the Jed Foundation said that about 1,100 college students in the U.S. commit suicide each year. Last year, a wrongful death settlement was reached in the case involving Cornell University and the city of Ithaca in the suicide of Bradley Ginsburg. The college freshman jumped from the Thurston Avenue bridge in 2010.

His father, Howard Ginsburg, said the school and city were negligent because they did not establish stronger suicide-prevention features for the bridge. Right before the start of trial, Howard accepted $100,000 from Ithaca and agreed to a perpetual Cornell scholarship named after his son.

In 2006, Elizabeth Shin’s family reached a wrongful death settlement with MIT. Shin was a student there when she lit herself on fire in 2000. She died from her injuries.

If your child was injured at a university, high school, grade school, pre-school, kindergarten, or another institute of learning, and you believe the school, any of its teachers, administrators, or other employees were involved or should be held responsible, you should contact our Boston personal injury lawyers today.

MIT sued after 2009 suicide of student, The Boston Globe, January 26, 2015

Cornell student bridge-suicide lawsuit settled, Ithaca Journal, September 11, 2014

Settlement in MIT Suicide Suit, Inside Higher Ed, April 4, 2006

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