Virginia Tech Faces Lawsuit for Negligence in Student Suicide

The Washington Post reports that a $43 million lawsuit accuses Virginia Tech of negligence in its response to a warning that a student was suicidal. The lawsuit states that Daniel Kim committed suicide on December 9, 2007, and claims that the university did not contact Kim, his parents, his roommates, or his professors after a friend sent an email to the school’s health center stating that the 21-year-old college senior was suicidal. According to the lawsuit, the school relied on a Blacksburg police officer’s assessment that Kim seemed okay. Virginia Tech spokesman Larry Hincker says that university regrets what happened.

In a 2008 CNN interview, Daniel Kim’s father William Kim said, “They treated it like some kind of joke.”

The article also states that Kim’s friend had emailed the university health center with the subject line “Emergency About Suicidal Student.”

“Daniel has been acting very suicidal recently, purchasing a $200 pistol and claiming he’ll go through with it,” read the email from Shaun Pribush, an online friend of Daniel Kim. “Once again, this is very serious; this is not a joke.”

The email was sent on November 5, 2007. Virginia Tech University protocol states that a suicidal student should see the psychologist on call, but that never happened. The health center passed the information to the Blacksburg police department. The police performed a “welfare check” at Kim’s doorstep.

“All they did was just knock on the door, and they got Dan, and that was pretty much it. Thirty seconds later, the door was closed,” said Kim’s roommate Chris Crumpler.

Virginia Tech said that it handled the case properly even though Kim was not seen by the on-call psychologist.

“The appropriate measures were taken in his case,” said Zenobia Hikes, vice president of student affairs. “Two-thirds of our students live off campus, and the protocol is for the police to go and do a wellness check in an individual lives off campus.”

Virginia Tech later told CNN that Hikes was describing an unwritten policy for off-campus students. The university also said it was considering changing its policy for suicidal students.

“We followed the protocol for Daniel Kim in following all the procedures that we were scheduled to do based on… information that we had in the e-mail, and we pursued the information in the e-mail, followed the protocol and acted appropriately," Hikes said.

The police actually checked on two different Daniel Kims living off campus. The other Daniel Kim said that police asked him about the online friend but didn’t seem very interested - “they didn’t ask me if I was feeling depressed or suicidal.”

The police did not comment on the story. Records show that they interviewed Kim and classified him as “C-4” which is code for okay. The police then left.

Three weeks later Kim bought a pistol with his father’s credit card. More than a month after the warning email was sent, Kim shot himself seven miles from campus.

This will be a very difficult case for all involved. My heart goes out to the Kim family.

If you have lost a family member because of negligence, contact an Atlanta, Georgia wrongful death lawyer. Call MLN Law at 404-531-9700 to schedule a free consultation.