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Article
Preventing Student Suicide: Nguyen v. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Symposium Issue: Reinventing the Canon: Great Torts Cases of the 21st Century)
Betsy Grey
16 Journal of Tort Law 107 (2023)
 
Open Access

Abstract:

Student suicide is a tragic problem on university campuses. Should universities have a tort duty to prevent them? Common law historically has shielded universities from liability based on the “suicide rule,” which holds that suicide is an intervening cause of harm and thus not within the scope of risk of negligence. Nguyen v. Massachusetts Institute of Technology represents a shift in this view, and begins to usher universities into an era of greater accountability, while mitigating the harsh impact of the suicide rule. This essay examines Nguyen as a classic example of common law’s incremental development. As with other areas previously off-limits to tort liability, Nguyen moves cautiously, opening the door to liability but with limits that avoid expansive liability in the absence of a university’s actual knowledge of suicide risk. It is too early to tell whether those limits will remain, or whether the basis for liability recognized in Nguyen will expand. Either way, Nguyen represents an important step in tort law’s response to a significant societal problem.
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