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Wrongful Death Suit Against MIT Filed By Parents of Richard Guy

By Kevin R. Lang


The parents of Richard A. Guy Jr. ’99 filed a wrongful death suit against MIT, one day before the three-year statute of limitations would have expired.

Guy died from asphyxiation as a result of nitrous oxide intoxication on Aug. 31, 1999, during Orientation. His parents, Richard A. Guy Sr. and Janet V. Guy, both of Mission Viejo, Calif., filed a complaint Aug. 30 with Middlesex Superior Court in Cambridge, suing MIT for one count of wrongful death and one count of wrongful death with gross negligence.

The Guys claim in their complaint that MIT “breached their duty to provide reasonable care, supervision and oversight of students in its dormitories,” and thus “MIT’s failure to meet its duty of care” contributed to Guy’s death.

MIT received an extension until Jan. 21, 2003, to answer the complaint. Daryl Lapp, an attorney for Palmer and Dodge LLP, which represents MIT, said that the answer date was delayed so the two parties could share information.

Lapp declined comment on any specifics of the case or MIT’s expected action. “The parties are exchanging information, and during that period of time ... they are going to have no public comment about the suit,” he said.

MIT spokesman Kenneth D. Campbell also declined to comment, as did Guy’s mother.

Other parties might be named

The Guys are also suing several persons named as “John/Jane Doe,” a method of naming additional, as yet unknown defendants. Three separate such defendants were named, including anyone who might have had some role in supervising Guy at East Campus, where he was a resident of Fifth East, anyone who might have allowed Guy access to nitrous oxide, and anyone employed through MIT Medical. The complaint admits that prior to 1999, Guy “had engaged in experimental drug use, and had sought treatment from MIT’s medical and health service staff for this problem.”

The suit claims that by paying Guy’s tuition, room, and board, “included in these payments was MIT’s promise, through its student handbook and student registration materials, that it would supervise and oversee its students and, particularly, the student residents of its dormitories.”

According to the complaint, “MIT knew or should have known ... that drug use was ongoing” at East Campus, but instead MIT “allowed drug use ... to continue unabated.”

The complaint cites “the appearance of the 5th floor, where the walls and ceilings of part of the 5th floor were painted black and light bulbs painted pink and purple” as evidence of drug use on Fifth East. In addition, the complaint alleges that MIT “knew or should have known that [East Campus residents] abused nitrous oxide within the dormitory and kept a canister of nitrous oxide, sometimes referred to as ‘the dorm bottle.’”

The suit also claims that MIT did not take “reasonable steps” to secure canisters of nitrous oxide which were on campus “for valid scientific purposes.”

No damages named yet

The Guys have not made any claims for damages at this time, in part because they admit in the complaint that “Richard was not blameless in this tragedy.” Rather, the complaint requests “the full amount of damages proved at trial, plus punitive damages, interest, costs, attorneys fees and other such relief as this Court deems appropriate.”

The Guys are suing under Massachusetts General Law Chapter 229, Section 2, which defines wrongful death by either an act of negligence or by “by willful, wanton or reckless act.” The law allows for damages to be awarded for “expected net income, services, protection, care, assistance, society, companionship, comfort, guidance, counsel, and advice of the decedent to the persons entitled to the damages recovered.” Guy’s parents could be also be awarded burial expenses and punitive damages.

Others charged previously

The suit is the first legal action taken directly against MIT in the Guy case. In September 1999, Susan M. Mosher ’99 and Rene A. Ruiz ’99 were charged with drug possession with intent to distribute as a result of a Campus Police investigation into Guy’s death. Guy was found dead in Mosher’s room, Walcott 509.

Based on witness statements, MIT Police obtained a warrant to search Mosher’s room, where they found alcohol, marijuana, mushrooms, amphetamines, nitrous oxide, and various drug paraphernalia.

Guy’s not first nitrous oxide death

Guy’s death in August 1999 was not the first instance of nitrous oxide abuse involving members of the MIT community. In March 1984, Keith T. Ennis ’84 died at Tau Epsilon Phi after overdosing on nitrous oxide.

In 1988, Pi Lambda Phi was suspended from rushing freshman for violations including use of nitrous at a pledge party, and in 1991, two electricians working at Lincoln Lab died after using nitrous oxide in their van.