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MIT Settles Shin Case, Parents Agree Death Likely an Accident

By Marissa Vogt

CORRECTION TO THIS ARTICLE: Because of an editing error, the phrasing in part of the April 4 article “MIT Settles Shin Case, Parents Agree Death Likely an Accident” could have been interpreted as saying that MIT and several of its employees sought damages of $27.65. The $27.65 million lawsuit was filed against MIT and those employees. MIT and the parents of Elizabeth H. Shin ’02 announced yesterday that they have reached a settlement for an undisclosed amount in the wrongful death lawsuit filed against Institute administrators and doctors.

The case was scheduled to go to trial in May, but in an unexpected move, both parties came to an agreement that the death was a tragic accident and not a suicide as originally confirmed by the Cambridge Fire Department and the Suffolk County medical examiner. Shin died in April 2000 from self-inflicted burns suffered in her room at Random Hall and the death was ruled a suicide, according to Shin’s death certificate.

“The settlement came because we agreed what the best interests of the Institute” and the Shin family are, said Chancellor Phillip L. Clay.

“The circumstances were such that … it was not immediately evident to her family” that the death was an accident, and so it was determined that it was in MIT’s best interests to settle, said Denise Brehm of the MIT News Office. Brehm declined to comment specifically why MIT chose to settle the case, citing the settlement’s confidentiality agreement.

A lawyer representing the Shin family, David A. DeLuca, did not respond to repeated requests for comment yesterday. Curtis R. Diedrich, a lawyer representing Dr. Linda Cunningham, who treated Shin at MIT Medical, also could not be reached for comment.

Shin may have overdosed before fire

As part of the agreement, the amount of the settlement will be kept confidential. It was not immediately clear how MIT would allocate funds for the settlement, though the money will likely come from MIT’s insurance and will not be paid with tuition funds, said Robert M. Randolph, senior associate dean for students. Randolph also said that he assumes the settlement will cover the Shin’s legal fees.

According to an MIT press release, Shin’s father Cho Hyun said “We appreciate MIT’s willingness to spare our family the ordeal of a trial and have come to understand that our daughter’s death was likely a tragic accident.”

It was not immediately clear what new evidence contributed to the recent agreement, though Brehm said that MIT has always believed Shin’s death was a terrible accident and not a suicide.

However, the day of the fire, Shin told students at Random Hall that she was planning to kill herself later that day. Additionally, The Boston Globe reports today that DeLuca said that toxicology tests suggest that Shin overdosed and as a result may have been unconscious when the fire started. At the time of her death, Shin was being treated for depression by MIT medical staff and had previously attempted suicide.

MIT administrators expressed satisfaction that the case has been resolved and that the staff members who interacted with Shin have been cleared of wrongdoing.

Brehm said that though the settlement includes an agreement that Shin’s death was accidental, it does not set a precedent allowing families to sue MIT in the event of future accidents and that MIT is “strongly prepared” to defend lawsuits.

Recent settlements between MIT and the parents of Richard A. Guy ’99 and Scott S. Krueger ’01 have provided for memorial scholarship funds, but Clay said that no such fund has been planned as part of the Shin settlement.

The wrongful death lawsuit was originally filed against MIT and several of its employees in January 2002 sought damages of $27.65 million. The four counts against MIT were dismissed by the Massachusetts Superior Court in June 2005, and charges against MIT Police officers who responded to the incident were dismissed by agreement of all parties involved in July 2005.

In the settlement, Shin’s parents have agreed to dismiss all remaining claims against the MIT administrators and psychiatrists named in the wrongful death lawsuit.

With the Shin settlement, the wrongful death lawsuit filed by the parents of Julia M. Carpenter ’03 in 2003 becomes the final outstanding wrongful death suit. Carpenter committed suicide in April 2001 and her parents are seeking damages of more than $20 million from MIT, Institute officials, and Charvak P. Karpe G, who is accused of stalking her. The case is slated for trial later this year.