Pa. Jury Finds Student's Suicide Unforeseeable
A Pennsylvania jury has ruled that a small liberal arts college is not liable for the death of a student who killed himself shortly after telling a mental health counselor, “I just do not like life anymore.”
Allegheny College of Meadville, Pa., is one of several schools (see list below) to be sued in recent years for failing to prevent mentally troubled students from harming themselves. The parents of Charles Mahoney, a 20-year-old junior at Allegheny, claimed school staff who had been treating him for depression ignored clear signs that he was suicidal.
“I just do not like life anymore,” Mahoney e-mailed counselor Jacquelyn Kondrot early on Feb. 11, 2002. “I don't study anymore and just living is a struggle.” Later the same day, he hung himself in his fraternity house.
In a December 2005 ruling, a Crawford County judge summarily dismissed the parents' claims against two lay college deans, finding “there was no 'special relationship' nor 'reasonably foreseeable' events that would justify creating a duty to prevent suicide or notify Mahoney's parents of any impending danger.”
The plaintiffs' attorney argued at trial that the remaining defendants -– the school, Kondrot and psychiatrist Dr. Gregory Richards –- should have put Mahoney on an indefinite leave of absence or hospitalized him. But on an 11-1 vote, the jury agreed with the defense that the suicide was not foreseeable.
“It has been the college's consistent position that Allegheny's counselor and consulting psychiatrist exercised the greatest care in the treatment of Mr. Mahoney,” the college said after the verdict.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology recently settled a similar case after a judge ruled that two administrators had a “special relationship” with a student, allowing them to foresee she would harm herself unless they intervened. Elizabeth Shin threatened suicide on the day she died.
To protect themselves from litigation, some colleges have adopted policies requiring that suicidal students be removed from school. But in a pending case, a student at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., has sued administrators for barring him from the campus after he checked himself into a hospital for psychiatric treatment.