Student's Suicide Could Cost Va. Tech $43M

Family accuses university of negligence

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    The family of a Virginia Tech student has filed a $43 million lawsuit, accusing the university of negligence in its response to a warning that their son was suicidal.

    Daniel Kim committed suicide on Dec. 9, 2007, about a month after the university's counseling center closed its review, according to the lawsuit last week in Fairfax County Circuit Court by Kim's parents, Elizabeth and William Kim of Reston.

    The lawsuit claims the university didn't contact Kim, his parents, roommates or professors after a friend sent an e-mail to the school's health center saying the 21-year-old senior was suicidal. it says the school relied on a Blacksburg police officer's assessment that Kim seemed OK.

    According to court papers, Kim, who is of Korean descent, became withdrawn after the campus shootings on April 16, 2007. He told his sister he was upset because he thought he resembled gunman Seung-Hui Cho, the lawsuit said.

    During that time, he confided in a friend, Shaun Pribush, a student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institution, who sent an e-mail to the university health center on Nov. 5, 2007, informing officials that "Daniel has been acting very suicidal recently, purchasing a $200 pistol, and claiming he'll go through with it," the lawsuit said.

    A school team charged with addressing student emergencies discussed the e-mail at its regular weekly meeting that same day, the suit said. After hearing of the officer's assessment, officials decided no further action was needed and closed the case a week later.

    By neglecting to follow up on concerns about Kim's safety, including the school's failure to comply with its own policies, the university "missed the opportunity" to discover that Kim was "of unsound mind and a threat to his own safety."

    "Whenever you lose a student, it's a very, very sad situation," said Virginia Tech spokesman Larry Hincker. "Big universities unfortunately, across the country, will see during the course of the year suicide. So it hurts an awful lot. It hurts particularly that this parent feels like the university has some involvement in it. We think that the facts of the case are quite a bit different."

    The suit names the state, as well as Thomas Brown, dean of students; Christopher Flynn, director at the school's Cook Counseling Center; and Vicki Arbuckle, assistant director of psychiatric services at the center.

    In addition to money, Kim's parents have asked that the university help establish a law that requires state universities in Virginia to notify parents when a threat to the safety of their children arises.