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student suicide

The internet has lit up with the story of the 20-year-old, 92-lb. history major who says she’s been battling the Yale administration over its pressure on her to eat more. [New Haven Register]. Although much of the press coverage seems unaware of the issue, it would not be surprising if changing legal pressures on universities played a role here. Efforts both regulatory and liability-driven have been under way to hold universities accountable for not preventing student suicides, and as a result, many campuses have seen a shift toward more interventionist, rules-driven policies designed to show that the institution was not standing idly by when it knew or had reason to know of early signs of self-harm. (Our file on the topic goes back a decade.) If the list of self-harm behaviors includes eating disorders, you might have a formula for interventions in which very skinny students are placed under pressure to prove they are not anorexic. Evaluating cases like the current one, of course, is difficult for outsiders because of HIPAA and other privacy laws which broadly prohibit the sharing of health-related information, even on topics of public concern.

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Education roundup

by Walter Olson on May 9, 2012

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“See if you can figure out how the shock and sorrow of the young girl’s death got processed into criminal charges against 9 teenagers and whether this reaction is helpful or just.” [Ann Althouse]

More: there’s not enough in the article to reach conclusions either way, says Scott Greenfield.

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January 5 roundup

by Walter Olson on January 5, 2010

  • Other motorist in fatal crash should have been detained after earlier traffic stop, says widow in suit against Kane County, Ill. sheriff’s office [Chicago Tribune]
  • Now with flashing graphic: recap of Demi Moore skinny-thigh Photoshop nastygram flap [Xeni Jardin, BoingBoing, Kennerly]
  • Blawg Review #245 is hosted by Charon QC;
  • Expensive, unproven, and soon on your insurance bill? State lawmakers mull mandate for autism therapy coverage [KY3.com, Springfield, Missouri]
  • “NBC airs segment on Ford settlement: Lawyers get $25 million, plaintiffs get a coupon” [NJLRA]
  • “Drawing on emotion”: high-profile patent plaintiff’s lawyer Niro writes book on how to win trials [Legal Blog Watch]
  • “Virginia Tech faces lawsuit over student’s suicide” [AP/WaPo]
  • Maryland lawmaker’s Howard-Dean-style candor: “you take care of your base… It’s labor and trial lawyers that get Democrats in office” [Wood, ShopFloor]

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It’s in part a pre-emptive defensive gesture by universities anxious not to get sued after suicides, which doesn’t make it a good idea. [Sally Satel, Minding the Campus]

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March 26 roundup

by Ted Frank on March 26, 2007

  • More fen-phen scandals: Possible smoking-gun email in Kentucky case (see Walter’s post today) came from Chesley firm computer; Vicksburg lawyer first attorney convicted in Mississippi fen-phen scam. [Courier-Journal via Lattman; Clarion-Ledger (h/t S.B.)] (Updated with correct Courier-Journal link.)
  • Allegheny College found not liable by jury for student’s suicide; school raised issue of student privacy concerns. Earlier on OL: May 30; Dec. 7, 2004. [WSJ]
  • Update on the tempered glass versus laminated issue earlier discussed in Overlawyered (Feb. 15, 2006; May 16, 2005; May 13, 2005, etc.) [LA Times]
  • Massachusetts court rejects quack sudden acceleration theory. (See also Dec. 20, Aug. 7, etc.) [Prince]
  • California bill would bar carpenters from school campuses. [Overcriminalized]
  • New book: Antitrust Consent Decrees in Theory and Practice [Richard Epstein @ AEI]
  • To be fair, I went to school with “young Mr Sussman, the boyish charmer”, and I don’t know how to pronounce “calumnies” either—it’s one of those words I’ve only seen written, and never heard spoken [Steyn; MSNBC]

We’ve previously noted that colleges, out of fear from liability over student suicides, have been taking extreme steps to preempt the problem by requiring medical leaves of absence. George Washington University discovered that avoiding suits from Scylla doesn’t mean that Charybdis won’t sue: Jordan Nott has sued the school after being barred from campus after seeking hospitalization for suicidal thoughts. Liability reform is clearly needed: either schools aren’t responsible for student suicides, or they aren’t responsible for the steps they take to prevent such suicides. (In the famous Elizabeth Shin/MIT case, the parties recently settled after a court ruling expanding schools’ liability in suicide cases, including the possible liability of administrators without mental health credentials.)

Amanda Schaffer, writing in Slate, argues for a middle ground—a program based on one at the University of Illinois intervening in the lives of suicidal students without kicking them off campus. But Schaffer doesn’t recognize that the middle ground doesn’t resolve liability issues, including hindsight-based lawsuits for the cases where the middle ground isn’t successful; even the Illinois program has reduced suicides by only half. Educational reform can’t happen without legal reform.

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