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As news of college shootings and other violent deaths on campus continue to send shock waves through American communities, institutions need to recognize that they may be held liable for harm sustained during such an event at school. University officials that mishandle critical situations are increasingly being questioned as part of an effort to increase safety and security on higher-education campuses throughout the nation.

Parents of a Wright State University student who committed suicide in March 2008 have filed a wrongful death suit against the school, according to recent court documents. The young man’s roommates had called campus police to their apartment after becoming concerned about his mental health. The 20-year-old had told his friends that he intended to kill himself by suffocating himself with helium.

Officers confirmed that the man did have a tank of helium, but they concluded that he was not suicidal and did not stay long at the apartment. After they departed, the young man filled a bag with helium, sealed it around his head and suffocated himself. A suicide note was found nearby.

Now, the parents are alleging that the school’s police department did not fully protect their son from harm. They say that the police neglected to perform their professional duty when they left the young man alone. Two of the same officers had responded to the young man’s previous suicide attempt in January 2008, when he overdosed on medication.

Meanwhile, university officials are vehemently denying any wrongdoing, saying that the officers followed established protocol during the incident. That assertion is not entirely correct, according to the plaintiffs’ lawyers, who say that the officers did not contact the wellness center, as they must do when a mental health emergency arises.

The university officials also claim that they are not liable in the case because they were engaged in public duties and therefore are immune from wrongful-death claims. They also say that the young man’s suicide note indicated that he killed himself because his friends called the police. That is evidence that he did not intend to commit suicide before the police arrived, according to their logic.

Further information will determine whether a settlement will be reached, though the contentious nature of the suit may send it to a jury trial.

Source: The Columbus Dispatch, “Parents sue Wright State over son’s 2008 suicide,” Randy Ludlow, May 11, 2012