It is a great tragedy for a parent to outlive a child. Even more painful is when the child commits suicide. Suicides among teenagers are particularly troubling because so many of them are preventable. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, between 500,000 and one million teens and young adults attempt suicide every year; most do so as part of a temporary impulse. The same research shows that if the impulse to commit suicide is thwarted by intervention or an inability to find a way to attempt suicide, the impulse passes, the teen lives and rarely tries it again.
Suicides on college campuses are an ongoing concern to administrations everywhere, and given the propensity of teens and young adults (18-24) to be more susceptible to a suicidal impulse, many colleges and universities have established mental health programs designed to decrease the number of attempted suicides and suicides on their campuses. Usually, these programs have several components: counseling services, peer-to-peer support, faculty training, and general increased awareness. But first and foremost, a college that is genuinely concerned about really implementing an effective suicide prevention program conducts an audit to determine which instrumentalities or means to commit suicide are present on campus and present the most serious danger of attracting students with suicidal impulses.
It only makes sense that if studies have shown that the college-age students on campus have a higher risk of attempted suicides than the general population, and these students often have fleeting or brief bouts of depression that may give rise to suicidal thoughts, then there should be a focus on removing or reducing students’ potential access to the most dangerous means to commit suicide, such as access high buildings or bridges where suicides or attempted suicides have taken place.
In the case of Ginsburg v. City of Ithaca and Cornell University, Civ. No. 5:11-cv-1374, which was brought in the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York, the central issue before the court was whether Cornell University and the City of Ithaca could be held legally liable for their negligent failure to take reasonable steps to install suicide prevention barriers on one of the bridges crossing a high gorge and connecting two parts of the university campus, despite the fact that, over a period of several decades, numerous college students and other young people from the surrounding community had easily jumped to their deaths. The prevalence of suicide by jumping from the gorge bridges at Cornell left many grieving families over the decades wondering why effective suicide prevention barriers, such as high railings or netting under the bridges, had never been installed. Many families of potential and current Cornell students also began to wonder whether it was safe to send their sons and daughters to a university that was gaining the dubious reputation of being “Suicide U.”
In July 2013, I received a phone call from Howard Ginsburg, a real estate attorney in Boca Raton, Florida. He told me that one of his two children, Bradley Ginsburg, an 18-year old freshman at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, had jumped to his death from one of the bridges crossing the deep gorges cutting through the Cornell campus. The specific bridge from which he had jumped – the Thurston Avenue Bridge — connected Cornell’s North Campus, where Bradley and other Cornell freshman lived, to the main academic campus. Bradley had crossed the Bridge on a daily basis before jumping to his death on February 17, 2010.
Bradley’s suicide came as a complete shock to his parents and all who knew him. He came from a stable and happy family, with two devoted parents and a younger sister with whom he had a good relationship. He was an honors student in high school in Boca Raton, Florida, and was an A student in his first year at Cornell. He participated in extracurricular activities, was well liked by his classmates, worked diligently in one of the dining halls at Cornell, and was a pledge at one of the most popular fraternities on campus. Bradley had never suffered from depression or other psychological disorders.
By all indications, Bradley’s suicide was an impulsive act that was tragically successful due to the ease with which he could climb over the low railing on the Thurston Avenue Bridge and leap to his death in the gorge far below.
After his death, a police analysis of Bradley’s computer revealed that, in the few days before his death, he had researched topics involving depression and suicide, and listened to some somber and depressing songs just before he left the dorm. Bradley’s roommates were unaware that he was dwelling on these dark subjects before his death. Outwardly he appeared to be as happy and well-adjusted as ever.
Before his death, Bradley left a suicide note on his computer, apologizing to all for what he was about to do. He then left his dorm room, walked the short distance to the Thurston Avenue Bridge, and easily jumped to his death.
Bradley was not the first; in fact, there had been jumpers from the Cornell bridges for decades. Bradley’s father was himself an alumnus of Cornell, and the fact that the gorge bridges were used for suicides was well known to the student body even then. After Bradley’s death, Howard Ginsburg, like many grieving parents before him, sought an explanation from the Cornell administration as to why, despite several decades of suicides by jumping from the bridges, Cornell had not insisted that safer railings or other suicide-prevention barriers be installed on all the gorge bridges.
Not surprisingly, he never got any good explanation from Cornell. What he got was an old fashion “run around.” The first excuse Cornell offered was that since the Thurston Avenue Bridge was owned by the City of Ithaca, not by Cornell, so the university was not responsible to fix anything on the Bridge since it had no authority to do so. While Mr. Ginsburg was not a legal scholar or an authority on the shared responsibility of municipal facilities in a private setting, he knew intuitively that Cornell’s answer did not make sense. Here was a world-class Ivy League college, which was of major importance to the City of Ithaca’s economy, and the college administration could not do anything except watch in horror as year after year student after student jumped from the Bridge? While the Bridge was owned by Ithaca, it was an integral part of the college campus infrastructure. It was logical to assume that there had to be some connection or collaboration between the City and the college and that Cornell could at least exert some influence – if not joint control – over what measures should be taken to reduce this ongoing threat to student safety. City residents couldn’t even get to the Bridge without passing over Cornell property, and Cornell students could not cross from one part of the campus to another without traversing it.
Even more obvious was the ongoing importance of the University to the City. It was (and still is) a major employer. Every year thousands of students arrive in Ithaca and, along with fellow students at Ithaca College, support the local business and provide prestige to the City. Contrary to Cornell’s position that the Bridge totally belonged to the City, and that the University didn’t have any say over how the Bridge’s design and safety components, key documents obtained during the course of the litigation established that the reality was quite different. Hundreds of pages of documents revealed that Cornell had been intimately involved in the re-design and re-construction of the Thurston Avenue Bridge and that the railings and other safety components that were installed were totally ineffective in preventing the needless loss of student lives.
Before I became involved in the case, an experienced upstate New York lawyer, Leland T. Williams, learned that the Bridge had been redesigned and rebuilt only a few years earlier, during 2006 and 2007, and that Cornell had played a major role in that project. Cornell had given some lip-service to the idea that the railings on the Bridge should be designed to prevent suicides, but decided that the concern for “aesthetics” was more important than suicide prevention. This irresponsibility might have been understandable if no one had ever committed suicide from the gorge bridges at Cornell. It might have even made sense if there was no information about 18-24 years old being more susceptible to suicide, or if 27 people had not jumped from the gorge bridges between 1990 and 2010. Finally, scientific and well-respected psychological research concerning suicides among college students was plentiful and consistent. Regardless of all this evidence, tragically and inexplicably, the new railings were just as easy to vault as the old ones.
In response to continuing questions from Bradley’s parents, Cornell took the position that Bradley’s suicide, however tragic, was not reasonably foreseeable, so Cornell had no liability or responsibility for his death. Cornell reasoned that since Bradley had exhibited no signs or symptoms of depression or other psychological distress, Cornell had no responsibility to provide psychological counseling to him or any other form of support. What Cornell failed to acknowledge was that as a psychologist affiliated with Cornell explained: “The people who are at the greatest risk are the ones who are best at hiding what’s wrong with themselves.”
In seeking to avoid any responsibility for Bradley’s death, as well as that of other students who had ended their lives in the same way, Cornell also relied on the argument that “if someone wants to kill themselves, they will find a way to do it.” This age-old (but false) argument for leaving high buildings and bridges as they are and not installing any suicide barriers on them rests on the notion that any person contemplating suicide will just find another place or a way to kill themselves if at first they fail to succeed. In Bradley’s case, Cornell argued that since Bradley was so hard-working and goal oriented, he would have found some way to kill himself even if he was prevented from doing so from one of the gorge bridges.
However, this argument – that it is virtually inevitable that someone contemplating suicide will find a way to do so — is completely unsupported by any studies on the subject or by psychological literature. The overwhelming evidence is that most individuals who would jump from iconic sites are ambivalent, act impulsively, choose a specific site, and if thwarted from an attempt at that site at a particular time will rarely seek out an alternative means to kill themselves. For example, after 480 suicide deaths on the Bloor Street Viaduct in Toronto, the erection of suicide barriers led to no significant increase in suicides on other bridges in the area. Cornell had its own home-grown evidence of the folly of this argument. In October of 1991, a student jumped from the Thurston Avenue Bridge and survived. According to Rob Fishman, a Cornell alumnus, writing for the Huffington Post, this student was the only one ever to survive such a jump and, once recovered, returned to campus and graduated from Cornell. The strong inference, therefore, is that the desire to kill oneself is, for the most part, temporary and when suicide becomes more difficult, people tend to get help rather than switching to another method. Finding help is what happened in England when the formula for gas ovens was changed, and carbon monoxide levels were reduced. The suicide rate was drastically reduced because an incredibly easy way to kill oneself (death by gas oven) had been removed. The U.K. continues to have a suicide rate about one-half that of the U.S.
For the small percentage of people who are deterred by suicide prevention barriers from jumping off high bridges and then try to end their lives by some other means, the survival rate is much higher. Jumping from a high structure is fatal 98 percent of the time, making it a much more effective and lethal form of suicide than anything else available to most people, even those who have guns. By comparison, poison is only 15 percent effective; drug overdose, 12 percent; wrist cutting, 5 percent. Undoubtedly, jumping from such a high bridge or building is truly, as the old -adage puts it, a “highly effective and permanent solution to a temporary problem.”
Even Cornell itself had to finally admit that suicide-prevention barriers on bridges save lives. As a group of experts later commissioned to study the subject stated in a Report issued after the death of Bradley and two other students within a short time span, “the decision to attempt suicide may be a transient response to a particular set of emotional circumstances that resolve with time.”
Eventually, it became increasingly clear to Bradley’s parents that the only thing Cornell or the City of Ithaca had to do to save Bradley’s life, and the lives of the dozens of other students, was to install safety measures on the gorge bridges. The fix was simple: higher and suicide-proof railings could be installed, or nets could be placed underneath the bridges (or both). These simple but effective safety measures would have prevented Bradley from succeeding in his impulsive rush to end his life. However, this last line of defense against suicide was not there. Cornell and the City had done nothing to minimize or eliminate the risk of people intentionally jumping from one of the gorge bridges, despite the certain knowledge that, sooner or later, someone else would do so.
Finally, after growing increasingly frustrated with Cornell’s response, on November 21, 2011, Howard Ginsburg filed a lawsuit against both Cornell and the City of Ithaca in federal court in upstate New York in his capacity as the Administrator of Bradley’s Estate. The lawsuit charged Cornell and the City with negligence and other causes of action relating to the lack of effective suicide prevention measures on the Thurston Avenue Bridge.
An Amended Complaint was filed on December 8, 2011, with fourteen causes of action, essentially alleging that both Cornell and the City were negligent in failing to design and install adequate railings and other safety and suicide prevention measures during the reconstruction of the Bridge. The Amended Complaint further alleged that, since there was a long and tragic history of suicide by jumping from the bridges (popularly referred to by generations of Cornell students as “gorging out”), it was reasonably foreseeable that students and City residents would do the same in the future. According to the claim, Cornell and Ithaca knew or should have known the bridges were a real risk to the students and residents of Ithaca, and that the “do nothing” option amounted to gross negligence.
Cornell and the City filed motions to dismiss and for judgment on the pleadings in January 2012, and Ginsburg cross-moved to supplement the pleadings.
On March 15, 2012, the district court judge, David N. Hurd, sitting in the federal courthouse in Utica, New York, denied both motions to dismiss. The district court also denied defendants’ motions for reconsideration or reargument. Among other things, Judge Hurd rejected defendants’ argument that Bradley’s suicide was “unforeseeable,” finding that “it was clearly foreseeable that someone may commit suicide by jumping off the Thurston Avenue Bridge.” Judge Hurd further found that “as owner and controller of the Thurston Avenue Bridge, defendants had a duty to maintain that property in a reasonably safe condition to prevent foreseeable suicides.”
Finally, in the Conclusion section of his Decision, Judge Hurd found:
Plaintiff has sufficiently alleged that Ithaca and Cornell owned and controlled the Thurston Avenue Bridge and thus had a duty to maintain that property in a reasonably safe condition to prevent foreseeable suicides. Plaintiff has also adequately alleged that Ithaca and Cornell failed to fulfill that duty when they did not implement appropriate suicide prevention measures on the bridge despite having an opportunity to do so when the bridge was redesigned and reconstructed in 2006-2007.
Thus, Judge Hurd agreed with plaintiff’s position that there was overwhelming evidence in the record that Cornell had sufficient “control” over the Bridge. Cornell’s collaboration with Ithaca over the 2006/2007 redesign and reconstruction established a duty on Cornell’s part to repair and prevent a known hazard, i.e., the ease with which a person could jump from the Bridge, and to be held accountable for damages resulting from its failure to remedy this known hazard.
Once I agreed to act as counsel for Bradley’s estate in the case and had fully reviewed what had already taken place in the legal proceedings, including Judge Hurd’s decision denying defendants’ motions to dismiss, I started doing some additional research as to the correlation between college-age students and suicide. The statistics were shocking. For decades, every university, including Cornell, knew or should have known that the risk of student suicides is always a clear and present danger. A survey of 26,000 students at 70 colleges and universities found that over fifty percent of college students had suicidal “ideations;” 18% of college students had seriously contemplated suicide, and 8% had made an attempt. Ten to 15 percent of college students regularly contemplate suicide, and one to two percent actually attempt it.
These statistics meant that at Cornell, with approximately 20,000 plus students, between 2000 to 3000 students were contemplating suicide at any given point in time. Cornell, in particular, has been aware of the issue of student suicides, since the number of student suicides by jumping from campus bridges has been much higher than the national average. According to Cornell’s own Timothy C. Marchell, Ph.D., while nationwide only 2% of student suicide deaths are caused by jumping, approximately 50% of Cornell’s student suicide deaths are by jumping from bridges.
Although it would have been impossible to anticipate that Bradley would be the next Cornell student to fall victim to the siren lure of the iconic bridges and gorges surrounding the campus, it was virtually inevitable – as Judge Hurd found — that someone else would attempt to jump from one of the bridges. The only question was “when.”
History of Cornell Suicides from Bridges.
The history of suicides at Cornell left little question that successive Cornell administrations must have been painfully aware of the dangers posed by the gorge bridges. Since the opening of the first bridge over the gorges in 1897, the specter of suicide haunted Ithaca. From 1970 to 1973, there were eight suicides in Ithaca, seven associated with Cornell, and four were at the gorges. Cornell considered installing suicide prevention railings and other “safety mechanisms” on the bridges but ultimately decided not to include these expenses in the university budget. Instead, the decision was made to do nothing.
During March 1976, a young Cornell student, Judy Kram, committed suicide by jumping from one of the gorge bridges. On May 25, 1977, Judy’s father appeared before the members of the Ithaca Board of Public Works to plead that they consider erecting suicide barriers on the City’s several bridges. Mr. Kram also wrote Cornell’s president, requesting that safety structures be installed on the bridges. President Gorson responded by stating that Cornell continued to prefer bridge designs that were “functional and aesthetically pleasing.”
Undaunted, Mr. Kram then took his case to the Cornell Board of Trustees, sending each Trustee an article about the recent cluster of suicides (at least 5) during 1977 and 1978. Cornell’s response was to start keeping a file on Mr. Kram, noting “that he has become extremely overzealous on the issue.”
After yet another student death by suicide in 1978, Cornell’s vice president reminded the grieving parents that ‘since 1970, there has [only] been, on average, one suicide a year at Cornell,” as if to suggest that one suicide per year was an acceptable “attrition rate.” The note went on to bemoan the fact that “the suicide myth seems to have taken on a reality of its own ….”
In October of 1976, Cornell’s vice president wrote a memo to then President Corson, entitled, “Suspension Bridge -Aesthetics vs. Suicide Deterrent,” noting the importance of aesthetics and concluding: “We do not program our design efforts for suicide prevention.”
It is not surprising, therefore, that over the years Cornell earned the nickname, Suicide U,” and Ithaca was often referred to as “the suicide capital.” The attraction of the gorges and the bridges over them continued to have a macabre hold on the imaginations of both Cornell students and graduates. One Cornell graduate returned ten years after his graduation to jump to his death into the gorge.
In the fall of 1977, however, Cornell was finally forced to take some limited safety measures following a series of three suicides by jumping into the gorge in rapid succession from the university-owned Suspension Bridge. Cornell declared a “mental state of emergency” and installed “suicide bars” (but no netting) on the Suspension Bridge. Unfortunately, however, neither Cornell nor the City of Ithaca, which owned the other bridges spanning the gorges on or near the Cornell campus, took steps to place any “means restrictions” on any of these other gorge bridges, which would have made it more difficult for a student to end his or her life by jumping from one of the bridges.
Two years later, on April 13, 1979, the body of a missing Cornell student was recovered from Fall Creek, which runs through one of the gorges. The boy’s father issued an “open letter” to Cornell’s president, noting that his son, like Bradley Ginsburg 31 years later, had no history of emotional problems, had graduated from high school with the highest awards and honors, came from a relatively happy and stable family, and had entered Cornell with otherwise excellent credentials.
The following month, in May of 1979, Cornell approved plans to add a 6 ½ foot metal bar railing to the Collegetown Bridge, but when opposition emerged, including complaints that the Suspension Bridge’s “suicide bars” created a “prison-like atmosphere,” the plan was shelved.
In short, despite the fact that Cornell and the City of Ithaca were repeatedly placed on notice by parents, community members and experts as to the need for urgent action to prevent suicides from bridges, defendants did nothing with regards to the Thurston Avenue Bridge or any other gorge bridges.
Between 1990 and 2010, 29 people attempted suicide by jumping off gorge bridges. Twenty-six were successful. During this 1990-2010 period, the tragic history of suicides continued to prompt repeated calls for suicide prevention measures to be installed on all bridges in the area. In November 1994, for example, Ithaca Police Officer Dan Slattery proposed to the City that “netlike chain-link safety barriers [be installed] about 15 feet under the five bridges on campus …” However, Cornell’s response to two student deaths in November 1994 was to deny that there was any “problem.” David I. Stewart, Cornell’s Director of Community Relations, blamed the bad press on “mythology,” stating: “There is a myth surrounding the number of suicides here. There is not a larger than average number of suicides on the Cornell campus.”
Finally, after the death of Bradley and two other students within a short time frame in February and March 2010, one of Cornell’s leading psychiatrists acknowledged that the gorge bridges were “iconic hot spots” drawing people to them in moments of despair, and that “means restrictions” at such spots saved lives.
Bridge Safety Versus Aesthetics.
Cornell was not the only school facing the suicide by jumping problem. In 2003, New York University experience two suicides inside the Bobst Library. The students jumped from the open-air crosswalks inside the library. NYU’s response was immediate; it constructed Plexiglas barriers on all stairways and crosswalks on all levels. In 2009, a third student managed to scale these barriers and jump to his death. This time, the University went even further, constructing a floor to ceiling metal barrier on each level. Unlike Cornell, NYU felt three suicides over three years was too many. Baruch College, another New York City college had similar suicides and, like NYU, responded quickly. Two suicides by jumping out of windows of a dorm on 18th Street in Manhattan led to the immediate placement of bars on the windows. A May 2014 suicide at a college building at 17 Lexington Avenue in Manhattan was met with similar action, including the formation of a college safety “Suicide Squad” to help curtail suicide attempts.
Everyone knows that suicide attempts from high bridges or buildings are almost always lethal. As the eminent suicide expert, Dr. James Motto, eloquently put it, the jumping from an iconic hot spot, such as the Ithaca Gorge Bridges or the San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, “is seen as sure, quick, clean and available, which is the most potent factor…It’s like having a loaded gun on the table.”
Nor is there any serious question that safety barriers on bridges and buildings are effective in preventing suicides. In 2001, the U.S. Dept. of Health and Social Services developed a “National Strategy for Suicide Prevention,” emphasizing the crucial importance of means restrictions for preventing suicide. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Position Paper dated June 16, 2008, definitively stated: “The use of bridge barriers is the most effective means of bridge suicide prevention.”
Iconic “hot spots” around the world like the Memorial Bridge in Augusta, Maine, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Empire State Building in New York, and the Bloor Street Viaduct in Toronto were all strong magnets for suicide seekers. Once suicide barriers were erected on all of them, the suicide rate dropped to nearly zero.
The puzzling question then is: If there have been so many suicide attempts from iconic high bridges or buildings, and they almost always result in death, why is it that effective suicide prevention barriers had not been installed at Cornell? As we continued to investigate, it became readily apparent that many people – including influential college professors and administrators – felt that the installation of effective physical barriers would detract from the aesthetic beauty of the iconic bridges and buildings that attract potential suicide victims. The art and architecture departments of most colleges and universities often have a substantial influence on the design or modification of campus bridges or tall buildings, while the corresponding lobby for suicide prevention through the use of physical barriers is virtually non-existent. Colleges like Cornell are willing to spend millions of dollars on first-class mental health counseling programs. Unfortunately, not all students, such as Bradley, seek help and do not show any outward signs of distress.
In order to prevent suicides by jumping from high places, there must be a recognition that to increase safety on bridges there may be some minimal negative effect on aesthetics. This trade-off is both a moral and a legal imperative, which many institutions and governmental entities have been slow to accept. As Dr. Motto has emphasized: “If people started hanging themselves from the tree in my front yard, I’d have a moral obligation to prevent that from happening. I’d take the limb off, put a fence around it. It’s not about whether the suicide statistics would change, or the cost, or whether the tree would be as beautiful…A barrier would say, “Society is speaking, and we care about your life.”
In other words, no one knows who will pick up an available gun and shoot, but logic and reason tell us with a high degree of certainty that over a period of time, someone will. Put another way, while it is impossible to identify all those persons who are suffering from severe mental health issues and will impulsively jump, without effective means restrictions, it is virtually certain that someone will try to commit suicide and succeed. Thus, the inescapable conclusion that our evidence showed, and which the federal court ultimately accepted in the Ginsburg case, was that cities and universities that have iconic suicide bridges on or near them are playing “Russian Roulette” with young people’s lives by not implementing effective suicide-prevention measures on those bridges.
Thus long before Bradley jumped to his death from the Thurston Avenue Bridge there was already a widespread consensus among experts that barriers were the most effective means of preventing bridge suicides. Cornell, in particular, knew about the importance of bridge barriers in preventing suicides. Nevertheless, as of February 2010, when Bradley jumped to his death, neither Cornell nor the City of Ithaca had taken any effective steps to design suicide-prevention barriers on the gorge bridges, such as specialized high railings or netting, that had proven effective at other “suicide bridges.”
Another notable exception to the general worldwide focus on suicide prevention in the design and construction of suicide prevention barriers on iconic bridges and buildings was the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, where over 1600 persons jumped to their death since it opened on May 27, 1937. A record 46 people plunged to their deaths from that bridge in 2014 alone.
The railing on the Golden Gate Bridge, like that on the Thurston Avenue Bridge in Ithaca and most of the other gorge bridges, is only four feet high, and a short walk from a parking lot. The original plans in 1937 called for railings of 5 ½ feet, but for reasons that remain obscure, the height was reduced to four feet. Over the years, there were seven unsuccessful campaigns to persuade or pressure the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway, and Transportation District to erect effective suicide barriers. This failure to install effective suicide prevention barriers on the Golden Gate Bridge were particularly frustrating to mental health professionals since a 1978 study entitled, “Where Are They Now?”, by Richard H. Seiden, a former professor at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health, showed that, of 515 people who had been restrained from attempting suicide by jumping off the bridge during the period from 1937 to 1971, over 90% were still alive in 1978 (the year he conducted his study) or had died of natural causes. In other words, if prevented from committing suicide, there is less than a one in ten chance that the person will try again.
In March 2005, the Golden Gate Bridge District directors voted to authorize a $2 million feasibility study but then delayed the funding for the study. It was not until 2014 that the directors reversed their longstanding policy and voted for using toll money to supplement state and federal funds for the implementation of suicide barriers on the bridge. The plan calls for a $66 million stainless-steel net system 20 feet below the sidewalk. One of the reasons that the Golden Gate Bridge directors changed their views on the subject was that there was mounting evidence introduced by psychiatric experts and mental health professionals that the suicidal impulse is typically fleeting, especially in young people. The average age of the jumpers also dropped alarmingly; while previously the largest group of Golden Gate Bridge suicides were between 35 and 45, suicides by 20 and 30-year-olds became more common. Some psychologists explained that the brains of teenagers and young adults were still developing, so they are subject to the transitory urge to commit suicide more than fully mature adults. Another factor in play in the change of heart by the 19-member bridge board was the fact that, while it was once an exclusively male institution, seven members of the board are now women. Senator Barbara Boxer, who had served on the board, was instrumental in getting a clause inserted in the 2012 federal transportation bill authorizing funds for the “installation of safety barriers and nets on bridges.”
Cornell and the City of Ithaca Reconstructed the Thurston Avenue Bridge during the 2006/2007 Time Period, But Failed to Install Effective Suicide Barriers
When Cornell and the City of Ithaca undertook to redesign and reconstruct the Thurston Avenue Bridge during 2006 and 2007, they ended up subordinating any concerns for suicide prevention to the competing and partially inconsistent goal of maintaining an “aesthetically pleasing” bridge design. In the June 6, 2002, Minutes of Project Meeting No. 2, passing reference was made to the “Use [of] railings with all vertical elements to minimize ‘climbers.’” However, Cornell and the City left little question as to their main priority: “aesthetically pleasing bridge railings would be preferred.” The July 9, 2002 “Cornell Information Meeting Minutes” noted that the only two priorities for the railing design were (1) meeting New York State Dept. of Transportation (“NYSDOT”) crash test criteria, and (2) aesthetics. The reasoning was: “[T]he railing design is a high priority due to the aesthetic nature of the area and the function of the bridge as a ‘gateway’ into the Cornell campus.” “Suicide prevention” was barely mentioned in the planning documents.
Indeed, when the new railings on the Thurston Avenue Bridge were finally built, they were actually lower than the original railings. Although the specifications called for an increase in the railing height from 3’ 5” to 4’7,” this intended increase was illusory. The reason for this is that, before reconstruction, there was no concrete parapet wall (sometimes referred to as a “concrete footing”) between the surface of the Bridge and the bottom of the railings. However, during the reconstruction, there was a “concrete footing” installed that was 18” high at the bottom of the railing. A person could easily stand on this parapet wall, making it much easier to climb over the railing. Before the new construction, the distance from the top of the parapet wall to the top of the railing was 3’7.” The new railing was, in reality, only 3’1” high, making the new railing four inches lower than the older 3’5” railing it replaced. In other words, the concrete footing completely defeated the purpose of raising the railing.
The railing was also designed with an inward curvature. If a person wanted to jump over the new bridge railing, he/she would simply stand on the concrete footing and hoist themselves up over the railing, with the curvature of the railing making it easier. Thus, the curved railings had absolutely nothing to do with enhanced pedestrian safety or suicide prevention, and neither Cornell nor the City took the trouble to have a study conducted to test this novel theory, i.e., that curved railings enhance bridge safety.
In fact, even before the reconstruction of the Bridge was completed, documents obtained from Cornell during the “discovery” process, where each side produces relevant documents requested by the other side, revealed that Cornell knew the railing design it adopted was inadequate to deter climbers. In an email exchange, dated February 22 and 23, 2006, between Frank Perry, Cornell Project Manager, and Curtis Ostrander, Cornell Police Chief, Mr. Perry wrote: “I do not see anything to keep people from crawling over the railing….The railing is curved to the inside as shown in the presentation, but only 1.4 meters or 4’7” high.” Police Chief Ostrander agreed: “Obviously I’m not happy with the low height of the railing …” Their concerns, however, were apparently buried.
Cornell Denies Any Involvement In or Responsibility For the Reconstruction of the Thurston Avenue Bridge
During the ensuing federal litigation by Bradley Ginsburg’s estate against both Cornell and the City of Ithaca, Cornell denied any involvement in the 2006/2007 reconstruction of the Thurston Avenue Bridge, arguing that the City held title to the Bridge and was, therefore, completely responsible for its redesign and reconstruction. However, one of the documents that we obtained during the discovery process in the case was a May 2002 study commissioned by Cornell and conducted by the consulting firm of Sasaki Associates Inc. This study noted that while the City owned the Bridge, Cornell owned the property on both sides needed for the redesign and reconstruction of the access roads leading to the Bridge. Indeed, Cornell had considerable leverage over the design of the reconstruction project because the City needed to obtain an Easement and Right of Way (“ROW”) from Cornell before it could finalize the design of the bridge project and get approval from the NYSDOT. Cornell finally agreed to “donate” this easement and ROW to Ithaca for no compensation, only after receiving the City’s tacit agreement to incorporate Cornell’s recommendations into the final plan.
Also, the City and Cornell, along with some other interested parties, entered into a formal “Partnership Agreement” during February-March 2006 for purposes of the Bridge reconstruction project. The design of the bridge railings fell within the area of Cornell’s responsibility. Cornell’s Sasaki Report showed that considerable time, money and effort was spent studying various means to protect the safety of pedestrians and bicycles. However, Cornell conducted absolutely no studies on the design of bridge railings that would prevent any further suicides from the Bridge. Apparently not one dime was spent studying the means restrictions on iconic bridges around the globe to determine what were the most effective suicide barriers. Was a railing height of 1.4 meters (4 ½ feet) high enough to deter climbers and prevent suicides? Was a curved railing a help or a hindrance to a person attempting suicide by jumping from the Bridge? If curved railings were a suicide deterrent, why weren’t they being used on other iconic bridges that attracted suicide seekers? Apparently neither Cornell or the City of Ithaca deemed it important to answer these questions, with tragic results.
Moreover, Cornell had no “suicide prevention” consultant focused on eliminating the risk of future suicides during the Bridge reconstruction. No one from Cornell or the City ever sounded the alarm (or even questioned) as to whether the addition of an 18” footing at the base of the railing created a hazard by making it easier for someone to jump the railing.
Ithaca’s Mayor Declares a “Public Health Emergency” After Three Cornell Students Commit Suicide from Gorge Bridges Within the Time Span of a Few Weeks
After the six suicides of Cornell students during the 2009/2010 academic year, with three of those deaths (including Bradley Ginsburg’s) taking place at the gorge bridges within a few weeks of each other, Ithaca’s Mayor declared a public health emergency on March 26, 2010. This declaration permitted Cornell to erect and pay for temporary chain link fences on all three City-owned bridges crossing the gorges, including Thurston Avenue Bridge.
During the next two years, from mid-2010 through 2012, the threat and then the reality of the Ginsburg case in federal court, as well as the overwhelming public outcry to finally put an end to suicides from the gorge bridges shocked Cornell and the City of Ithaca into taking some effective action. On August 4, 2010, the City Common Council, at Cornell’s request, issued a Resolution extending the public health emergency and allowing Cornell to erect and pay for the replacement of the temporary chain link fences with black-coated, “suicide-proof” rectilinear fences on all three City-owned bridges.
Cornell also took the lead in the redesign of other suicide prevention measure, such as security surveillance cameras and it paid for the installation of nets underneath the Bridge to catch any jumper who might succeed in scaling the railings. An agreement dated December 21, 2011, between Cornell and the City, gave Cornell primary control over the design of other safety components on the Bridge to prevent additional suicides. Cornell hired the consulting engineers/designers who designed these additional means restriction measures, and on April 13, 2011, Cornell published on the internet its “Bridge Means Restriction Study.”
In short, when Cornell finally decided that the time had come to install effective “means restrictions” on the gorge bridges, it knew exactly how to take control and accomplish that goal, regardless of whether they were technically “City owned” or not.
The Summary Judgment Motions
After voluminous document discovery and depositions of at least one dozen witnesses from Cornell and the City of Ithaca, as well as various consultants, experts and Mr. and Mrs. Ginsburg themselves, Cornell and the City, both filed motions for summary judgment. The defendants claimed that the Court should not permit the case to move forward to a jury trial and that by law they had no legal responsibility for Bradley’s death.
Even though Judge David N. Hurd had already ruled in denying defendants’ motions to dismiss that the plaintiff (Bradley’s Estate) did not have to prove that it was specifically foreseeable that Bradley would try to commit suicide by jumping from the Bridge, Cornell raised this issue once again in its motion for summary judgment. It submitted an expert report from a psychiatrist, Paul Barreira, M.D., for the apparent purpose of establishing that Bradley’s suicide was not “foreseeable.” Dr. Barriera speculated that since Bradley had left a suicide note that bore the date of June 6, 2009, about eight months before his death, that he “must” have been contemplating suicide for at least eight months, and that his decision to kill himself was carefully planned, not a fleeting impulse. Cornell’s expert further argued that, since Bradley was unquestionably a “hard worker,” if his “goal” were to commit suicide, he would have found a way to accomplish his goal, regardless of whether or not it was easy to jump from the Thurston Avenue Bridge.
However, a closer analysis of Bradley’s suicide note revealed that the date of “6/6/09” for his suicide note must have been a mistake since Bradley did not even own the laptop computer on June 6, 2009, which was not purchased until two months later, during August 2009. Moreover, Bradley was not a student yet at Cornell on June 6, 2009, and yet Bradley’s suicide note made references to the AEPi fraternity at Cornell. The inescapable conclusion, therefore, was that the note must have been created after Bradley had arrived at Cornell in the late summer of 2009, and most likely in the few days before his death on February 17, 2010, when he was doing extensive research on topics involving depression and suicide.
Cornell’s argument that because Bradley was a “hard worker” and very goal oriented, he would have found an alternative means to kill himself, ignored the scholarly research showing that the overwhelming majority of people who try to commit suicide and survive, do not make another suicide attempt. Rather, they are more likely to obtain help from mental health professionals and then go on to live normal and productive lives. The more reasonable explanation, therefore, was not that Bradley would have persisted on his “mission” to kill himself, but that if the Bridge had effective suicide prevention measures in place, Bradley’s suicidal impulses would have been thwarted. Then he would have sought psychiatric counseling to manage what was obviously his first serious encounter with self-destructive impulses.
By denying Cornell’s motion for summary judgment, the district court appears to have favored the opinion of plaintiff’s expert, Dr. Michael Bernstein, which was that Bradley was having a transitory bout with depression. Dr. Bernstein believed Bradly’s suicide was an impulsive act, and that if effective means restrictions were in place on the Bridge, it is likely that his death would have been prevented. It was also pointed out that all factors present at the time of Bradley’s suicide indicated that he was looking towards the future until just before his death. He had recently applied for and was accepted for a camp counselor’s job that coming summer. He had asked his mother to send him his passport for a fraternity trip to Montreal the following week, and he had just changed some of the courses he was taking that Spring semester. In short, there was absolutely nothing about Bradley’s life that indicated he was depressed or contemplating ending it.
Dr. Bernstein also noted in his expert report that numerous studies had shown that adolescents and young adults are more prone to impulsive behavior. A study found that 10% to 15% of college students are contemplating suicide at any given time, this means that at Cornell, with approximately 20,000 students, between 2000-3000 were thinking of suicide every day. In any event, Judge Hurd ruled that Bradley’s state of mind was largely irrelevant to the issue of Cornell’s duties and responsibilities.
After an extensive legal briefing on the various issues by all parties, on March 24, 2014, the district court substantially denied both Cornell’s and the City’s motion for summary judgment. The district court declined to dismiss plaintiff’s negligence claims against Cornell based upon a “premises liability” theory for wrongful death and personal injuries. The court found that “an issue of material fact remains for a jury as to whether Cornell exercised sufficient control over the design, construction, and maintenance of the Thurston Avenue Bridge to justify holding it liable, with Ithaca, for injuries caused by alleged hazards on the bridge.” Judge Hurd reached this decision based on a finding that “Cornell provided invaluable assistance and input during the design phase of the bridge reconstruction project.” He noted that “Cornell also retained Sasaki [Associates] to study pedestrian, vehicular, and bicycle traffic and other campus safety matters as part of the bridge’s redesign.” The court found, in its written decision and order, that “a rational juror could view this … as evidence of Cornell’s understanding that [the Thurston Avenue renovation project] was a joint endeavor with Ithaca.” Further, Judge Hurd noted that “Cornell employees participated directly in numerous meetings with representatives for Ithaca ….” The district court also relied on the fact that after the third suicide in March 2010, “Cornell paid for, installed and maintained temporary fencing and permanent netting.” Finally, Judge Hurd found that “whether Thurston Avenue Bridge was reasonably safe in light of the allegedly foreseeable risk of future suicide attempts is a factual issue to be determined by a jury.”
Although the district court dismissed the Amended Complaint’s negligence theory based upon a special in loco parentis and contractual relationship, this was of no real practical significance since the negligence claims “based on premises liability for wrongful death and personal injuries … remain[ed] ready for trial.”
One of the reasons why Judge Hurd denied defendants’ summary judgment motions was that Ginsburg’s “premises liability” case against Cornell was based on the well-settled law that the existence of a duty depends on whether the risk to be guarded against is one which would normally be anticipated or foreseen. Courts had almost uniformly found that a property owner “may be held liable to a plaintiff for harm suffered … if the landowner (a) had actual or constructive knowledge that injurious conduct was likely to occur or recur, and (b) fails to control that conduct despite the opportunity to do so.” Thus, a college may be found to have breached its duty if it fails to take minimal precautions to protect its students from reasonably foreseeable acts. Moreover, since the issue of whether a dangerous or defective condition existed usually depends on the peculiar facts and circumstances of each case, courts leave such fact-intensive questions to the jury, rather than deciding them before trial in response to a summary judgment motion. If the defendant was involved in creating the hazardous condition, a plaintiff is not even required to establish that it had “prior notice.”
The record in the Ginsburg case overwhelmingly demonstrated that Cornell had sufficient “control” over the Thurston Avenue Bridge and its 2006/2007 redesign and reconstruction, establishing a duty on its part to repair and prevent a known hazard. The hazard was the ease with which a person could jump from the Bridge, and the court held that Cornell could be held accountable for damages resulting from its failure to remedy this known hazard. The responsibility was especially true since Cornell had a detailed knowledge of the long tragic history of suicides from the Thurston Avenue Bridge and other bridges, and that it was common knowledge on campus that “gorging out” was a relatively painless way to end one’s life. In other words, Cornell’s liability arose from its “failure to exercise reasonable care to prevent or minimize foreseeable future danger.” Cornell also assumed joint responsibility with the City to improve safety on the Thurston Avenue Bridge and represented that one of the major objectives was to design bridge railings that would prevent suicides. Having assumed responsibility for bridge safety, we argued that Cornell was liable for having failed to design bridge “means restrictions” that achieved those objectives.
Judge Hurd scheduled jury selection for September 29, 2014, with the trial to commence on October 1, 2014. On the eve of trial, Cornell offered to settle the matter in consideration of the establishment of a full perpetual scholarship in Bradley’s name. The University initially placed a value on the scholarship (in writing) of $1.5 to $1.6 million. According to a letter from Cornell’s counsel, dated August 23, 2014, that was the amount of an “endowment [that] would be required for a private donor to establish a scholarship with the terms we are proposing.
Plaintiff’s calculations placed a value of a full perpetual scholarship at a slightly higher number, i.e., $1.8 million. These calculations were based upon the current Cornell cost of tuition, room and board, and other miscellaneous college expenses was $60,000 per year. The value of the scholarship to the Estate would, therefore, be, at a minimum, 30 years times $60,000 per year, or $1.8 million. On August 15, 2014, Plaintiff wrote to the district court explaining this valuation.
Bradley’s Estate also received a “low-ball” settlement offer from the City of Ithaca for $75,000, which was increased to $100,000. On September 10, 2014, shortly before a scheduled settlement conference with the district court regarding a settlement with the City, Howard Ginsburg — against my advice — accepted Cornell’s offer of a full perpetual scholarship in Bradley’s name, and the City’s offer of $100,000, thus terminating the case without a trial.
The suicide deaths of Bradley Ginsburg and two other Cornell students within only a few weeks of each other in 2010 finally shook Cornell University and the City of Ithaca out of their decades-long refusal to recognize the need for the installation of effective suicide-prevention measures on the other bridges spanning the gorges traversing the Cornell campus. With the City’s consent, Cornell quickly erected some temporary chain link fences on Thurston Avenue Bridge, which were later replaced with sufficiently high and specially designed railings that were intended to prevent potential jumpers. These specialized railings were backed up by the installation of netting below the Bridge, and the installation of security cameras.
The results were dramatically positive: There have been no reported suicide deaths by jumping from any of the gorge bridges since these safety measures were installed. There is also no evidence that a student or student who was thwarted in their intent to jump from a gorge bridge committed suicide by alternative means.
One “take away” from the Ginsburg case is that litigation and heightened public awareness are often an effective means to force universities and municipalities to acknowledge the importance of physical suicide prevention barriers on major bridges and buildings. Simply put, universities and municipalities have a legal obligation to take reasonable safety measures to protect students in particular and all citizens in general who may be attracted to iconic bridges and buildings. These bridges and buildings are known magnets for those who may seek to end their lives by jumping to their deaths. Colleges and universities that ignore this obligation do so at substantial risk since the grieving families of suicide victims have shown an increased willingness to use the judicial system to hold them accountable.
1. See Naples News article, “Study Recent Virginia Tech Settlement Bring Spotlight to College Suicide,” January 1, 2012.
2. “Lethal Beauty/The Allure: Beauty and an easy route to death have long made the Golden Gate Bridge a magnet for suicides,” Edward Guthmann, SF Gate, October 30, 2005.
5. Id. at 27.
6.Howard I. Ginsburg, as Administrator of the Estate of Bradley Marc Ginsburg v. The City of Ithaca and Cornell University, United States District Court for the Northern District of New York, Civ. No. 5:11 cv 01374.
The district court based its decision on the established law that a landowner (or anyone else who “controls” property) “has a duty to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances in maintaining its property in a safe condition,” citing In re Kush v. City of Buffalo, 59 N.Y. 2d 26, 29 (1983). See also, Pearce v. Holland Property Management, Inc., 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 47723*12 (N.D.N.Y. 2009) (the primary focus in the inquiry on duty concerns “whether the defendant’s conduct created a foreseeable zone of risk, not whether the defendant could foresee the specific injury that actually occurred,” citing Stanford v. Kuwait Airways Corp., 89 F. 3d 117, 125 (2d Cir. 1996); and DeVeau v. United States, 833 F. Supp. 139, 142 (N.D.N.Y. 1993) (a plaintiff must demonstrate “that there was a dangerous condition and that either the defendant affirmatively created … or had notice [of it] …, after [such] knowledge or notice was received, the defendant had a reasonable opportunity to correct the dangerous condition …, and that the defendant … failed to correct the condition within a reasonable time thereafter”).
7.See National Research Consortium of Counseling Centers in Higher Education, “New Data on the Nature of Suicidal Crises in College Students: Shifting the Paradigm,” Dunn et al, Professional Psychology, Research and Practice, Vol. 40, No. 3, 213-222.
8.See “Ithaca Is No Longer Fences,” by Alex Bores, The Cornell Daily Sun, 11/29/11; see also, in the “2006 National College Health Assessment,” it was found that 10% of students are contemplating suicide at any given time, with 1.3% reporting that they actually attempted suicide. “A Public Health Approach to Campus Mental Health promotion and Suicide Prevention,” Gregory T. Ells, PhD, Director of Counseling and Psychological Services, et al, Harvard Health Policy Review, Volume 13.
9.See article written by Timothy C. Marchell, PhD, M.P.H. Cornell’s Director of Mental Health Initiatives, for the Ithaca Journal on June 27, 2011, entitled, “History, research and responsibility show the need for safer bridges.”
10. See Rob Fishman, “Cornell Suicides: Do Ithaca’s Gorges Invite Jumpers?” Huffington Post, 3/11/10.
11. See guest editorial in the Ithaca Journal entitled, “Moral Concern: Safe Bridges,” dated April 15, 1978, written by Nina Miller, the founder of the Suicide Prevention and Crisis Services (SPCS) of Tompkins County, and W. Jack Lewis, Director, Cornell United Religious Work, calling for means restriction on Ithaca’s gorge bridges.
12. See Huffington Post article, Rob Fishman, “Cornell Suicides: Do Ithaca’s Gorges Invite Jumpers?”, 12/16/2010, reporting on the suicide of Bradley Ginsburg in February 2010; three weeks later, William Sinclair, and the very next day, Matthew Zika. See also, Inside Higher Education, “Does 6 Deaths in 6 Months made Cornell A ‘Suicide School?”
13. See “Means Restriction on Ithaca’s Bridges: A Key Element of a Comprehensive Approach to Preventing Suicide,” prepared by Dr. Tim Marchell (updated: April 14, 2011).
14. See New York Times (“NYT”) article dated 11/5/94, “Another Fatal Plunge has Cornell Asking Whether Its Gorges Inspire Student Suicides.”
15.See Inside Higher Ed. (updated 3/16/2010, “Does 6 deaths in 6 months make Cornell ‘suicide school?”, Jennifer Epstein, reprinted in USA Today.
16. Dr. Tim Marchell, Paper, “Means Restriction on Ithaca’s Bridges, A Key Element of a Comprehensive Approach to Preventing Suicide,” (updated April 14, 2011), at 5-9.
17. “The Final Leap: Suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge,” John Bateson, at p. 141.
See www.mhrsonline.org at 1. See also, Gannett Health Services: website section “Notice & Respond,” Cornell website (http://gannett.cornell.edu/notice/resources/suicide.cfm), at page 4 of 5.
18. See Article, SF Gate, 11/03/05, by Carolyn Zinko.
20. New York Times, “Suicides Mounting, Golden Gate Looks to Add a Safety Net, Carol Pogash, March 26, 2014.
21.New York Times, March 26, 2014, “Suicides Mounting, Golden Gate Looks to Add a Safety Net,” Carol Pogash.
25.Public opinion also seems to have changed in favor of suicide prevention since 1995, when the number of bridge suicides was approaching 1000 and a radio disc jockey offered a case of Snapple to the family of the 1000th jumper. 26.Id.
28. Howard I. Ginsburg, as Administrator of the Estate of Bradley Marc Ginsburg v. The City of Ithaca and Cornell University, United States District Court for the Northern District of New York, Civ. No. 5:11 cv 01374.
29.Cornell University North Campus Circulation Study, prepared for Cornell University by Sasaki Associates, Inc., dated May 2002 (“Sasaki Report”).
30.Cornell’s expert report submitted in the district court directly contradicted the Report that Cornell commissioned shortly after Bradley’s death, which pointed out that the gorges are iconic spots and that “means restriction is critical to preventing suicides by jumping and individuals almost always do not find a second method when they are obstructed from using the first … that most individuals who would jump from iconic spots are ambivalent, act impulsively, choose a specific site, and if thwarted from an attempt at that site at a particular time, will survive.”
31.Although New York courts have generally rejected the doctrine of in loco parentis at the college level, New York law has recognized that a duty may be found to exist where a college encourages students to participate in an activity and takes affirmative steps to regulate that activity. See, e.g., Hores v. Sargent, 230 A.D. 2d 712, 646 N.Y.S. 2d 165 (2d Dept. 1996) (community college found liable for failure to take reasonable precautions for the safety of participants in a college-organized bicycle trip); see also, Rothbard, 652 N.Y.S. 2d at 148.
32.The federal court for the Northern District of New York, which is where the Ginsburg case was pending, had previously considered a “premises liability” case involving a Cornell fraternity. See Lloyd v. Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, 1999 WL 47153 at *4 (N.D.N.Y. January 26, 1999). In the Lloyd case, the plaintiff was a Cornell student who was pledging at the defendant fraternity. He sued the national and local chapter of the fraternity for the injuries he sustained as a result of “hazing” by members of the fraternity. The court granted defendant’s summary judgment motion, finding that the factual record was insufficient to find that Cornell was “actively involved” in the fraternity hazing practices on campus. In Lloyd, as in the Ginsburg case, Cornell argued that a college may only be held liable for “premises liability” where plaintiff can show a physical defect made the premises unreasonably safe, and that the defendant college was negligent in not maintaining the premises in a reasonably safe condition, citing Basso v. Miller, 40 N.Y. 2d 233, 386 N.Y.S. 2d 564 (1976). See Lloyd at *11. However, the court in Lloyd pointed out that Cornell “sees the issue too narrowly,” and that a college “may be held liable to a plaintiff for harm suffered – even where the plaintiff engages in a voluntary activity – if the [college] (a) had actual or constructive knowledge that injurious conduct was likely to occur or recur, and (b) fails to control that conduct despite the opportunity to do so. See Lloyd, citing Oja v. Grand Chapter of Theta Chi Fraternity, 680 N.Y.S. 2d 277, 278 (3d Dept. 1998).
33.See Campbell v. Cunningham Natural Gas Corp., 164 Misc. 1, 298 N.Y.S. 200, 204 (Sup. Ct. 1937), citing the landmark case on “proximate cause” decided by the New York State Court of Appeals in a decision written by Judge Benjamin A. Cardozo: Palsgraf v. Long Island R.R. Co., 248 N.Y. 399, 344 (1928); see also, 65 C.J.S. Negligence, Sec. 4(1) & 4(3).
34.Lloyd v. Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, 1999 WL 47153, at *4 (N.D.N.Y. Jan. 26 1999). In Lloyd, the court distinguished the facts before it from the case of Furek v. University of Delaware, 594 A. 2d 506 (Del. 1991), where the Delaware Supreme court found that the university did, in fact, have a duty to prevent hazing on campus when there was at least a five year record prior to that date of plaintiff’s injuries that the university knew of past hazing incidents that caused harm to students, and that it was “common knowledge on campus” that hazing occurred. See Furek, 594 A. 2d at 520-521. Prior to deciding Lloyd, the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York had previously decided another case involving Cornell’s liability for “premises liability.” See Nieswand v. Cornell University, 692 F. Supp. 1464 (N.D.N.Y. 1988), the Court denied Cornell’s summary judgment motion, recognizing that a property owner has a “duty to take protective measures” when it knows or has reason to know of an existing dangerous condition, citing Nallan v. Hemsley-Spear, Inc., 50 N.Y. 2d 507, 429 N.Y.S. 606, 613 (1980). In Nallan, where the plaintiff was shot by an unknown assailant in the lobby of a building where there were 107 reported crimes during the 21 months before the shooting, the NYS Court of Appeals found that “a rational jury could have found from the history of criminal activity … that a criminal incident in the lobby was a significant, foreseeable possibility.” 50 N.Y. 2d at 520, 429 N.Y.s. 2d at 613-614. See also, Sherman v. Concourse Realty Corp., 47 A.D. 2d 134, 136, 365 N.Y.S. 2d 239, 242 (2d Dept. 1975).
35.See Miller v. State, 62 N.Y. 2d 506, 514, 478 N.Y.S. 2d 829, 833 (1984) (defendant has a duty to take “minimal security precautions,” such as locking a dormitory’s doors); see also, In re Kush, 59 N.Y. 2d at 33-34.
36. See Pandekakes v. United States, 2000 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 186 (S.D.N.Y. 2000).
37. See Nieswald, 692 F. Supp. at 1469, where the court found that an “implied contract” existed between Cornell and its students since Cornell had assumed responsibility to maintain effective security measures on campus. Cornell was slo on notice that “the problem of propped open doors was well known,” and that “the University failed to take steps to resolve the problem. “ Nieswand, at 1471.