The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
Five Truman State University (TSU) undergraduate students killed themselves during the 2016-2017 academic year. Four were Alpha Kappa Lambda (AKL) frat brothers and one was a female victim about whom less is known. The parents of two of the male victims (of death by hanging), have filed a lawsuit in a Missouri state court against the university, the frat, and a frat brother named Brandon Grossheim who appears to have been linked to all five victims. Unlike in the Michelle Carter case in Massachusetts (about which I blogged here, here, and here), no criminal charges were filed against Grossheim for playing a role in the suicides.
The facts are currently somewhat murky. Grossheim appears to have had access to the living quarters of the victims, was in the proximity of some of them around the time of their deaths, allegedly took some victims' items like money or drugs, and had spoken to at least some of the victims about their depression and suicidal thoughts. According to the suit:
Defendant Grossheim had the intent to aid or encourage Mullins and Thomas to commit self-harm in that he "counseled" them and gave "step-by step-instructions to them on how to "deal with their depression," make peace and "do their own free will" thereby implying that he counseled them to commit suicide.
The plaintiffs accuse the defendants of "negligence, misrepresentation, and other wrongful conduct". The lawsuit states in part:
Defendants AKL and TSU had a legal duty to use ordinary care to protect its members, including Plaintiffs from a person, known to be violent, who was present on the premises or an individual who was present who has conducted himself so as to indicate danger and sufficient time exists to prevent injury.
Defendants breached their duty to Plaintiffs by failing to intervene in Grossheim's dangerous behavior and/or failing to warn or protect Plaintiffs.
What role Grossheim played in the suicides and whether TSU and AKL failed to fulfill their duties should become clearer as the facts unfold. At this stage, the plaintiffs likely have a long way to go before they meet their legal burdens.