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MIT responds to complaint, denies liability in Shin case

Lawyers for MIT on Friday filed their answer to the complaint in the lawsuit filed by the parents of Elizabeth Shin, the MIT sophomore who died in April 2000 as a result of burns she suffered in a fire in her Random Hall room.

Shin's death was ruled a suicide by the state Medical Examiner's Office. Her parents are seeking over $25 million in damages, claiming that MIT psychiatrists failed to properly diagnose and treat her, that these psychiatrists and MIT administrators failed to inform her parents about Shin's psychiatric problems, and that MIT Campus Police failed to properly respond to the fire in her room.

The answer filed on Friday in Middlesex Superior Court in Cambridge is MIT's formal response to the specific allegations in the Shins' complaint. It contains detailed factual responses to the Shins' allegations, as well as legal defenses to certain of those claims.

The answer was filed on behalf of MIT as well as Associate Deans Arnold Henderson and Ayida Mthembu; Random Hall Housemaster Nina Davis-Millis; Anne Glavin, who was Chief of the MIT Campus Police at the time of Shin's death; and two MIT Campus Police dispatchers involved in the response to the fire. The five psychiatrists who also were named as defendants in the case were expected to file their answer to the complaint on Monday March 11.

The answer filed on Friday denies each of the Shins' allegations of wrongdoing on behalf of MIT and the individual defendants. It categorically denies "that any MIT Mental Health Service professionals [failed] to provide Ms. Shin with appropriate care" and denies "that her death was proximately caused by any failure on the part of MIT or anyone affiliated with MIT".

The answer denies specific allegations in the complaint that Shin began to experience psychiatric problems "during her freshman year at MIT." The answer states that "records of Ms. Shin's February 1999 psychiatric commitment to McLean Hospital and an excerpt from an analysis of Ms. Shin's case by a psychiatrist retained by Plaintiffs' counsel to support Plaintiffs' claims against the defendants (both of which were provided by Plaintiffs' counsel) indicate that Ms. Shin began to experience psychiatric problems, including self-mutilating behavior, during high school."

The answer also responds to the Shins' claims that they were not informed by MIT of Shin's psychiatric problems during her time at MIT, and states that Shins' parents knew that Shin experienced serious problems in both her freshman and sophomore years.

Shin was hospitalized at McLean Hospital, a psychiatric hospital in Belmont, following an overdose of Tylenol with Codeine in February of her freshman year. The answer states that Shin's housemaster Nina Davis-Millis "with Shin's permission, notified [the parents] of this hospitalization," and that Shin's parents visited her at McLean Hospital.

The answer goes on to state that "according to the McLean Hospital records provided by Plaintiffs' counsel, [Shin's parents] were involved in the evaluation and treatment planning for her and it was recommended that they be involved in Ms. Shin's care."

The answer also notes that the McLean records state that Ms. Shin's mother considered the February incident to be a suicide attempt, that Ms. Shin's mother was reported to be angry at Ms. Shin, disappointed, and sad because of it, and that Ms. Shin's father was reported to be surprised and saddened by her actions.

According to the answer, Davis-Millis also notified Shin's parents -- again with Shin's permission -- when Shin was briefly hospitalized a second time at the MIT Infirmary. Shin was hospitalized overnight on March 18, 2000 -- the day before Ms. Shin was to go home to New Jersey for Spring Break -- after other residents in Random Hall reported to Davis-Millis that Shin was distraught and Davis-Millis took her to MIT Medical. The answer states "Ms. Shin was discharged from the MIT infirmary the following day to go home to New Jersey -- after Ms. Davis-Millis, with Ms. Shin's permission, notified her parents of this hospitalization".

The answer also provides detailed responses to the Shins' allegations that the psychiatrists involved in her care failed to properly diagnose and treat her condition in the spring of her sophomore year, and in particular in the days leading up to the fire on April 10, 2000. According to the answer, Shin was regularly seeing a psychiatrist at the MIT Mental Health Services, and was also seeing an outside therapist in early April. The answer also states that in the days before the fire, Shin's therapists were discussing hospitalization options with her, including a partial hospitalization program at Two Brattle Center in Cambridge.

The answer stated that Dr. Peter Reich, the head of MIT Mental Health Services, made arrangements on April 10 and left a telephone message for Shin to go to an intake appointment at that private psychiatric center for the morning of April 11.

Shortly after 9 p.m. on April 10, according to the answer, MIT police were dispatched to Shin's dorm room, where they found her engulfed in flames. "They extinguished the flames, pulled her from her room and began CPR." Cambridge Fire Department and ALS (Advanced Life Support) assisted with the treatment. She was transported by ambulance to Massachusetts General Hospital, where she died April 14.

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