Is There a Duty?: Limiting College and University Liability for Student Suicide

This Note argues that nonclinician administrators employed by institutions of higher education do not have a special relationship with their students such that they have a duty to act with reasonable care to prevent a foreseeable student suicide. Courts that have in recent years ruled to the contrary have done so by incorrectly basing their duty-of-care analysis on foreseeability of harm alone. With an eye toward a proper duty-of-care analysis, this Note analyzes multiple factors to reach its conclusion, including the ideal relationship between colleges and their students and the burden on and capability of colleges to protect their students from a particular harm. Moreover public policy concerns weigh heavily against imposing a duty on nonclinician university administrators. This Note further argues that the tort doctrine of negligent performance of affirmative duties undertaken provides a better framework within which to assess the liability of institutions of higher education for student suicides by holding those institutions responsible for egregious missteps regarding student mental health problems. Liability pursuant to negligent performance of affirmitive duties undertaken requires that colleges and universities implement and operate their programs with due care, but leaves sufficient latitude for individual colleges and universities to explore suicide prevention techniques that are effective and feasible in light of their student body, resources, and overall educational philosophy.