After a Suicide, Privacy on Trial

Elizabeth Bernstein:

As Charles and Debi Mahoney watched six men and six women file into the jury box of a Pennsylvania courtroom one evening last August, they clutched hands and tried to remind themselves why they were in court. “Parents sending their kids off to college need to know that their kids aren’t safe when they think they are,” Mr. Mahoney recalls thinking at the time.
More than four years earlier, their 20-year-old son, Chuck, had hanged himself with his dog’s leash in his fraternity house at Allegheny College, in Meadville, Pa. At their son’s funeral, the Mahoneys learned that his friends and ex-girlfriend had repeatedly warned college administrators and counselors during his last days that Chuck was a danger to himself. The officials and his college therapist had discussed his crisis — but no one had alerted the family.
His parents sued for wrongful death in 2003, alleging that Allegheny should have taken more action at the end — such as breaking their son’s confidentiality to get them involved. One of Chuck’s fraternity brothers who tried to alert school officials, Michael Fischer, testified that seeing his friend’s last days “was like watching a car accident …. We knew something was going to happen. We had to try to stop it.”