“Judge Approves Lawsuit Against City, Cornell Over Suicide”

by Walter Olson on March 22, 2012

“A federal judge Tuesday okayed a lawsuit claiming the City of Ithaca and Cornell University are liable for the 2010 death of a student.” The father of Bradley Marc Ginsburg “alleges the defendants did not do enough to prevent suicides from the [Thurston Avenue] bridge.” [Ithaca Independent]

{ 8 comments }

1 wfjag 03.22.12 at 9:21 am

In finding that Cornell Univ and the individual defendants (who are Cornell administrators), non-owners of the bridge, may be liable because it/they involved themselves in the re-design of the bridge to make it harder for people to jump from to commit suicide, US District Judge Hurd sends a clear message — unless you have a legal obligation to try to improve things and make them safer — DO NOT GET INVOLVED; DO NOT TRY TO IMPROVE CONDITIONS OR MAKE THEM SAFER. Just sit back, wring your hands, and say “That’s terrible. Someone, but not me, should do something to try to prevent such tragedies in the future.”

2 Richard Nieporent 03.22.12 at 10:14 am

I just wasted 10 minutes of my life reading the judge’s ruling. I will save the rest of you the trouble to do so by highlighting some of the most ridiculous points.

It was clearly foreseeable that someone may commit suicide by jumping off the Thurston Avenue Bridge. Indeed, twenty-nine people had jumped from area bridges since 1990. Ginsburg alleges that this particular bridge had earned a dubious reputation for suicide attempts, and he identifies an article in which defendant Marchell acknowledged that safety measures are necessary to prevent people from impulsively jumping off bridges in the area.5 See id. ¶ 27. Further, defendant Eells estimated that up to fifteen percent of Cornell students contemplate suicide “on a pretty regular basis.” Id. ¶ 20.

It is a wonder that there are any living students at Cornell “with up to 15% contemplating suicide on a pretty regular basis”. Clearly, by the judge’s logic, it is foreseeable that some student attending Cornell will take his life. Therefore, shouldn’t there be a duty by Cornell to warn potential students that they are risking their life by attending Cornell? In other words, Cornell should be held financially responsible for every student that commits suicide.

In short, the history of suicides and suicide attempts, defendants’ public acknowledgment of the phenomenon, and the bridge’s accessibility to a student population—fifteen percent of which regularly considers suicide—shows defendants had actual, or at least constructive, knowledge that a suicide attempt from the bridge was foreseeable.

You keep using that word judge. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Now if the judge could actually think logically, he would realize that if somehow you could make that bridge suicide proof, then the individual would simply use one of the other bridges. And by extension if you could somehow make all of the bridges suicide proof then the 15% of these extremely bright Cornell students would figure out another way of committing suicide. In short, the judge is an idiot if he thinks that the bridge was the cause of the suicide and not just a “convenient” choice to do the deed. If someone really wants to commit suicide they will find another means of doing it.

3 John Burgess 03.22.12 at 10:19 am

Why don’t we all just get a number from the government. Then, working top down we can each get sued for whatever the next case is.

This way, we can sort of prepare for the financial debacle that will fall on our heads because we know it is inevitably coming. Everyone will, in time, be sued for something.

This might even ameliorate the abuses of weak cases against deep pockets. Holding, say, Mary Kay Products as the defendant in a lawnmower defect case would likely end up with a smaller payment than if it were a defendant in a cosmetics case. Holding Joe Blow as the defendant for an oil spill in the Gulf would result in little or no recovery as he’s only earning $40K/yr.

Lawyers, of course, must also be enrolled in the program. They don’t get a bye because of their occupations.

4 No Name Guy 03.22.12 at 1:15 pm

Clearly, what is needed is for ALL bridges to be removed. And for that matter, all structures that are higher than say……5 feet, since one could get hurt jumping from about that height in a failed suicide attempt. And while we’re at it, we’d better level off all cliffs, precipices and similar natural terrain features as well – if they’re not gently sloping, someone could jump.

And since I thought of this, and from the above I KNOW that 15% of the students there at Cornell have suicidal thoughts ALL the time, I now have a duty to make these changes to suicide proof the world for them. Hmmm….I’d better get on it. Now, where’s my bulldozer?

5 John Burgess 03.22.12 at 6:44 pm

@No Name Guy: Gently swelling contours make me ill. Sort of seasick. When seasick, I tend to lose equilibrium. Lost of equilibrium could lead to falling down. Falling down can lead to bruises, if not brain trauma or even death.

My lawyer is more awesome than your lawyer. Give me your money now, of go through the pain of trial before you give me your money.

6 Melvin H. 03.22.12 at 8:15 pm

No Name Guy, I thought that was what the ADA and ADA-AA were supposed to do (or are doing)….?

7 Skeptical 03.22.12 at 8:51 pm

In that suicides are willing participants, isn’t the bridge effectively only an attractive nuisance?

How will this court case play? Can the defendants call the father to the stand and establish that the way he raised his son caused him to be suicidal?

8 No Name Guy 03.23.12 at 1:49 pm

Actually Melvin, ADA would probably require wheel chair accessible suicide ramps to be installed on all bridges. If a wheel chair bound Cornell student can’t kill themselves by rolling off the edge just as easily as an able bodied student could jump, the bridge is obviously discriminatory – and after all, as our good friend Ron Miller and the rest of the tort bar makes clear, if it’s not equally easy for the disabled to access this “feature” of the bridge, the entire bridge shouldn’t be open for anyone for ANY purposes. :-)

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