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MIT Denies Wrongful Death in Guy Lawsuit

By Kathleen L. Dobson

MIT has finally answered the wrongful death lawsuit filed by the parents of Richard A. Guy Jr. ’99, denying that the Institute knew about drug use at East Campus or caused Guy’s 1999 death, which came as a result of his nitrous oxide abuse at the dormitory.

The Guys, who are one of three families seeking to hold MIT responsible for a student’s on-campus death, sued MIT in August 2002, one day before the three-year statute of limitations would have expired.

Their lawsuit is peculiar. Unlike the plaintiffs in MIT’s other wrongful death lawsuits, the Guys have not asked for a particular amount of damages, have declined to speak with the press, and have made no attempt to get around the $20,000 statutory limit on damages that MIT can be required to pay in wrongful death cases.

That, and the fact that the Guys allowed MIT to delay its answer for 14 months, led to speculation that the lawsuit would be settled without MIT having to reply in court.

But MIT finally answered the lawsuit on Nov. 21, denying as expected all responsibility in Guy’s death, which was ruled an accident.

Daryl J. Lapp, an MIT lawyer in the case, said that not much should be inferred from MIT’s answer. It would not be hard for the Guys to amend the lawsuit to include more money or name more people as defendants, he said.

The Guys’ lawyers declined to comment.

MIT says it didn’t know of drugs

In its response, MIT admits that in late August 1999, Guy had “engaged in experimental drug use and had sought treatment and counseling from MIT’s medical and health service staff for this problem.” However, MIT denies that it knew or should have known that drug use was ongoing at East Campus.

The complaint refers to 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 ongoing drug use at Fifth East. MIT also denies that non-student drug users were allowed to live on the 5th floor, as the Guys had alleged.

In addition, MIT denies that it knew or should have known that the residents of East Campus “kept a canister of nitrous oxide, sometimes referred to as ‘the dorm bottle’ of nitrous oxide at the dormitory.”

MIT also denies the Guys’ lawsuit that it did not take “reasonable steps” to secure canisters of nitrous oxide used for “valid scientific purposes,” allowing “unauthorized persons, including students and employees, to have access to the dangerous gas and to use it as an intoxicant.”

Although the Guys assert that MIT is partly responsible for Guy’s death, they acknowledge in the complaint that their son “was not blameless in this tragedy.”

Shins, Carpenters also suing

The Guys’ lawsuit is on schedule to go to trial in 2005. The two other wrongful death lawsuits pending against MIT -- one filed by the parents of Elizabeth H. Shin ’02, another by the father of Julia M. Carpenter ’03 -- will go to trial in 2005 and 2006, both seeking more than $20 million from MIT and several MIT administrators and doctors whom the parents say were responsible for their daughters’ suicides.