MIT Hit With Suicide Lawsuit

Kisuk P. Shin, left, and her daughter Elizabeth Shin are shown in this undated family handout photo. The family of Elizabeth Shin, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology student who commited suicide by setting herself on fire in her MIT dormitory room in April 2000, filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against MIT on Monday, Jan. 28, 2002.
The family of a student who committed suicide at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology by setting herself on fire filed a $27 million lawsuit Monday accusing MIT administrators and counselors of negligence.

Elizabeth Shin, 19, a biology major from Livingston, N.J., died in April 2000 in her dormitory room. She had received treatment through MIT's counseling and support services for more than a year before her death.

In the lawsuit, Cho H. Shin and Kisuk P. Shin claim school administrators and health services counselors failed to properly deal with obvious signs of mental illness shown by their daughter, who had repeatedly threatened to commit suicide.

The school has denied any wrongdoing.

On Feb. 12, 1999, Shin tried to kill herself by taking an overdose of Tylenol with codeine and spent a week receiving inpatient psychiatric treatment at a hospital, the lawsuit said. After that, she repeatedly cut her arms and wrists, the Shins said.

The Shins claim MIT officials should have notified them of their daughter's worsening mental health.

"If they made even one phone call to warn us what was going on, Elizabeth would be with us now," Kisuk Shin said Monday.

Shin's mother said her daughter never showed symptoms of depression before starting at MIT. But MIT officials last week said that Shin had experienced serious emotional problems since high school.

"Many people at MIT had offered as much help and support as they could to her," MIT lawyer Jeffrey Swope said in a statement Friday, when the family announced plans to sue.

The family's lawyer, David DeLuca, said MIT officials explained they did not contact Shin's parents because of confidentiality laws, specifically the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act that protects the privacy of a student's education records.

Kenneth Campbell, a spokesman for the university, would not comment on DeLuca's claim.

Since 1990, 12 students have committed suicide at MIT. A report issued by an MIT committee in August concluded that the university needs to make "significant changes" in its mental health services.

By Denise Lavoie © MMII The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed