Student Suicides Resulting In Wrongful Death Lawsuits For Colleges
There have been three high-profile lawsuits filed recently against various universities. The most famous case involved Katie Meyer’s lawsuit against Stanford. In that case, the parents claimed the University threatened Meyer with punishment for an altercation with another student who she accused of sexually assaulting her friend. Meyer was placed on probation and it was during this period that she ended her own life. The university is blamed for its mismanagement of her mental health.
A second lawsuit was filed against Harvard alleging that the University did not do enough to address the deteriorating mental health of one of its students. In that case, the student attempted to commit suicide previously. In response, the University placed the student on contract and stated that he was required by the terms of the contract to tell a counselor if he had thoughts of hurting himself. Instead, he killed himself. The University is blamed for its mismanagement of the situation.
A third lawsuit alleges that a rower committed suicide due to ongoing verbal harassment, death threats, and other “old school” coaching techniques employed on his students. The parents claim that the coach’s conduct caused psychological distress that gave rise to his suicide. The coach is accused of calling the rowers demeaning nicknames, threatening to kill them, and other unpleasant things. He has since resigned from the university. The University is blamed for its mismanagement of the situation.
Duty of care
Universities have a duty of care to act if they become aware that one of their students is suicidal. In the case of Harvard, the university did act, but they are being blamed for the approach they took. In the other two lawsuits, the Universities are blamed for placing extreme pressure on the students that gave rise to feelings of hopelessness and despair.
While any university would share that duty of care, the allegations against the universities do not involve a failure to act on reliable information. Instead, the universities are accused of substantially contributing to the victim’s emotional state at the time of their death.
Old school versus new school
Universities are being caught in the middle of a transitional period where the standards employed between superiors and their underlings are under a microscope. Today, we are much more sensitive and understanding about mental health struggles than we were in the past. People always ask, “Why weren’t students killing themselves in 1970 when I was a student?” The fact is that they were, and we just didn’t talk about it, address it, or take responsibility.
The new school considers the emotional health of students and seeks better strategies for communication. Already, Miami head coach Mike McDaniel is making waves with his new school coaching approach and coaches are being sought out because they effectively communicate with Gen Z.
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