We’ve heard about the prestigious Harvard University, especially the Harvard Law School, which allows students to work with extraordinary colleagues in a rigorous, vibrant, and collaborative environment.
However, according to Harvard Crimson, recently, the university has been in the limelight not for its unparalleled opportunities to study but for wrongful death. Let’s explore the details of the incident with Ehline Law and our USA personal injury attorneys.
David W. Heinlein graduated from Suffolk University Law School and is a founder of Heinlein Beeler Mingace & Heineman, which serves in Cambridge, Boston, and many more localities.
He has extensive experience representing plaintiffs and defendants in state and federal court.
Martin F. Murphy is a partner at Foley Hoag and a co-chair of the litigation department. He has resolved many complicated disputes outside of the courtroom and tried more than 40 cases (under civil and criminal law) in various courts.
Murphy knows the civil and criminal procedure and has admissions to the United States Supreme Court.
On November 1, 2022, both law firms involved in the case presented their arguments for and against the motion for summary judgment.
According to the lawsuit filed in 2018 in Middlesex County Superior Court, Harvard and a few of its employees did not fulfill their duty of care towards the undergraduate student, Luke Tang.
In the recent hearing, Harvard’s lawyers stated that the suit should not proceed to a jury trial. On the other hand, the plaintiff’s lawyers argued that Harvard was negligent and did not provide Luke Tang the care he needed following his suicide attempt in 2015.
During the hearing, both law firms agreed that the university had a duty of care toward Luke Tang. However, Harvard’s attorneys disagreed with the claim that its employees breached that duty of care.
The lawsuit holds Harvard College and a few of its employees, including Melanie Northrop, a mental health services employee, responsible for the death of Luke Tang.
Martin F. Murphy referenced a 2018 case, Nguyen v. MIT, where a student committed suicide. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court did not find the Massachusetts Institute of Technology liable for the student’s death.
In the Nguyen v. MIT case, the court examined what MIT’s duty should be towards Nguyen and found a special relationship between the college and the student creating the duty of care to prevent the student from committing suicide in limited circumstances.
The court stated that when the university knows about the student’s previous suicidal attempts and intention to harm themselves, the university has the duty of care to take reasonable measures and protect the student from hurting themselves.
The court further outlined reasonable measures by stating that the university must invoke suicide protocol by contacting relevant individuals and providing the necessary care. If the student refuses care, the university must report the situation to their emergency contact or emergency services personnel.
After outlining the new rules, the court ruled in favor of MIT, stating that the university did not have a duty to protect Nguyen since the student had never communicated their intentions or suicidal thoughts to any of the university’s employees.
Martin F. Murphy argued that Harvard and its employees are not liable for Luke Tang’s death. After Tang tried to commit suicide in 2015, Harvard required Tang to enter into a contract if he wished to continue studying at the university. The contract required Tang to visit the treatment team and ensure he followed their recommendations.
According to the contract signed between Harvard and Tang, the student should bring any mental health issues or concerns to the health services department at Harvard or the local hospital rather than keeping it to himself or his friends.
During the hearing, Judge Brent A. Tingle asked Harvard’s attorney whether the contract could increase the student’s likelihood of suicide. Tingle asked Murphy whether there could be a new duty between Tang and the university.
Murphy argued that the contract was a means to lay some rules for Tang if he wished to stay enrolled at the university and that Harvard showed compassion towards the student’s mental health when it entered into the contract.
According to Murphy, Harvard went above and beyond the contract’s provisions to help Tang.
The attorney representing the Tang family, David W. Heinlein, argued against the court to give a judgment on the case’s merits before the trial and proposed that the case should proceed to a jury trial. He referenced previous court rulings and said Harvard’s interpretation of the Nguyen v. MIT case was wrong.
Heinlein mentioned the opinion of a licensed clinical psychologist who stated that if the university had enough prevention protocols, it is more likely that Tang would not have committed suicide.
Heinlein laid emphasis on the expert psychologist’s opinion as a basis to dismiss Harvard’s motion for summary judgment.
During Tang’s time at Harvard, the university assigned Northrop, a mental health services employee, to Luke Tang following his suicide attempt. Since she was Tang’s case manager, it was her responsibility to ensure Tang was doing well mentally and allocate resources toward his mental health accordingly.
The attorney representing Northrop, William J. Dailey III, stated that since Luke did not reach out to his case manager, Northrop, she did not have a legal duty to care.
However, Heinlein mentioned that since the University and Tang were in a contract, Northrop failed to continue care toward Tang. Heinlein believes that since Northrop didn’t do anything as she “didn’t receive any signs” from Tang is clear evidence of her breach.
After more than an hour of arguments presented by both sides, Judge Tingle concluded the hearing and decided to take the case under advisement, meaning he would give his decision after carefully considering all the evidence presented.
The Criminal Justice Policy Program at Harvard law school has done several studies on mass incarceration and racial disparities, but will its employees be one of those who end up in prison if investigations reveal criminal negligence, or will this wrongful death case remain a civil case that leads to a settlement?
If you’ve lost a loved one due to another’s negligence, contact us at (833) LETS-SUE for a free consultation, as you may be eligible for compensation.
Michael is a managing partner at the nationwide Ehline Law Firm, Personal Injury Attorneys, APLC. He’s an inactive Marine and became a lawyer in the California State Bar Law Office Study Program, later receiving his J.D. from UWLA School of Law. Michael has won some of the world’s largest motorcycle accident settlements.