The Northern Federal District Court of New York recently denied Cornell University’s request for judgment on the pleadings in a case that could eventually lead the University to construct a fence around a local bridge that has often been the site of student suicide. Ginsburg v. City of Ithaca was filed by the father of eighteen year old freshman Bradley Ginsburg, who committed suicide by jumping off of the Thurston Avenue Bridge which connects the freshman residences with the main academic area of the campus in February of last year. Ginsburg was the fourth of six Cornell students to commit suicide during the 2009-2010 school year and the first of three to do so by jumping off a bridge. The suit alleged that Cornell was negligent by failing to implement adequate suicide prevention measures on the Thurston Avenue Bridge.
Cornell argued that it did not have a duty to prevent Ginsburg’s suicide, which was unforeseeable and that the Thurston Avenue Bridge had been reconstructed during the 2006-2007 school year and was not in a dangerous or defective condition. The Federal District Court rejected both arguments. The court held that although Cornell did not own the bridge, it did exercise control over the operation of the bridge and held it out as its own to the extent that the University could owe a duty to students using the bridge. The court also found that Ginsburg’s suicide by jumping off the bridge was far from unforeseeable as 29 people had jumped from area bridges since 1990. Finally, the court found a determination of the defective condition of the Thurston Avenue Bridge premature as any safety measures implemented on the Bridge were clearly insufficient to prevent suicide.
Ginsburg’s father originally filed the suit against Cornell in November of 2011, shortly after the University and the City of Ithaca agreed to attempt to install nets below Ithaca’s bridges including the Thurston Avenue Bridge. The nets will serve as a form of “means restriction” intended to hinder the ability of students to jump. Cornell embraced the idea of installing a means restriction on Ithaca’s bridges after suicide prevention experts convinced the University that installing barriers would be an effective means of preventing suicide. At a forum on the subject held by Cornell University last year, suicide-prevention expert Eric Caine ‘69, chair of the department of psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical Center stated that “it is very clear, over and over again, that when you put up a barrier on a bridge, suicides there are almost completely stopped.”
Subject to approval from the Ithaca Planning Board, the nets are scheduled to be installed during the summer of 2012.