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The duty of a university where a student has attempted to commit suicide while enrolled at the university or recently before matriculation, or stated plans or intentions to commit suicide, at least for nonclinicians, is limited. It is created only by actual knowledge of a student's suicide attempt that occurred while enrolled at the university or recently before matriculation, or of a student's stated plans or intentions to commit suicide. It also is limited to initiating the university's suicide prevention protocol, and if the school has no such protocol, arranging for clinical care by trained medical professionals or, if such care is refused, alerting the student's emergency contact. Finally, the duty is time-bound. Medical professionals may, for example, conclude that the student is no longer a suicide risk and no further care or counselling is required.
The plaintiff, Dzung Duy Nguyen, commenced a wrongful death action against the defendants, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), MIT Professors Birger Wernerfelt and Drazen Prelec, and MIT assistant dean David W. Randall, arising out of the suicide of his son, Han Duy Nguyen (Nguyen). The defendants were alleged to have been negligent in not preventing Nguyen's suicide. The motion judge allowed summary judgment for MIT and the individual defendants, finding no duty to prevent Nguyen's suicide. Plaintiff appealed.
Was the grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants proper under the circumstances?
The court affirmed the decision, holding that no duty of care was created. The court noted that the student never communicated by words or actions to any university employee that he had stated plans or intentions to commit suicide. Moreover, any prior suicide attempts occurred well over a year before matriculation, the student was a 25-year-old adult graduate student and was not living in a campus dormitory under daily observation, and the student repeatedly made clear that he wanted to keep his mental health issues separate from his academic performance problems and that he was seeking professional help from psychiatrists and psychologists outside the university's system.