A lawsuit filed against Duke by the parents of a student who drowned while participating in a study abroad program has generated calls for legislation.
During the spring of 2012, Swarthmore College student Ravi Thackurdeen went to Costa Rica as part of the Organization for Tropical Studies semester program listed on the Duke Global Education website. According to the lawsuit filed against Duke, the trip leaders took the students on a surprise trip to a beach on the nation’s Pacific coast on the last day of Thackurdeen’s trip. While swimming, Thackurdeen was pulled to sea by a rip current and drowned, according to the lawsuit.
In 2013, Thackurdeen’s mother, Roshini Thackurdeen co-founded Protect Students Abroad that advocates for transparency about injuries and fatalities during study abroad programs and better pre-travel information.
“Study abroad is a terrific experience—but only if students return safely,” Protect Students Abroad’s website states.
The group has found an ally in Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, a New York Democrat, who introduced the Ravi Thackurdeen Safe Students Study Abroad Act in 2014 and 2016. Although it has not advanced in Congress, Maloney said that he plans to reintroduce it again this session, according to an Associated Press report. If passed, the bill would require greater reporting about study abroad programs and crime affecting students.
The Thackurdeen family’s lawsuit alleges the program took its students to a beach that was known to be dangerous for swimmers and did not have a lifeguard on duty. The suit also claims that Thackurdeen and her husband were not kept informed about their son’s death and that their son’s body was transported in poor conditions.
In its response, the University denies that any of its employees were in Costa Rica “at any time relevant to Ravi Thackurdeen’s death.” It also emphasizes that Duke is a separate legal entity from OTS, although there is a memorandum of understanding between the parties facilitating their collaboration.
Duke’s response also notes that Thackurdeen signed a liability waiver that absolves the University from responsibility in the event of “any loss, damage, or injury, including death . . . as a result of my traveling to and from, and participation in this activity.”
The University also claims that Thackurdeen’s actions also played a role in his death.
“Thackurdeen failed to exercise reasonable care in swimming at a time and in a place where he was aware that there were potential dangers, in a manner that increased the risk to him, and failed to take into account his limitations as a swimmer,” states the University’s response.
The University filed a motion Feb. 24 asking for a judgement on the pleadings in its favor that would dismiss Thackurdeen’s claims. The lawsuit seeks $75,000 in damages for negligence and emotional distress.
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View the Thackurdeens' original lawsuit here:
View Duke's response to the lawsuit here: