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Duke to face emotional distress lawsuit from parents of student who died on study abroad program, judge rules

A district judge has decided that Duke will have to face a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress over the 2012 death of a student on a study abroad trip, but granted a motion to dismiss claims of negligence and wrongful death in the suit.

The lawsuit was filed by the parents of Swarthmore College student Ravi Thackurdeen, who died in Spring 2012 while visiting Costa Rica as part of an Organization for Tropical Studies semester program. It alleges that the trip’s leaders took students to a beach on the island during the last day of Thackurdeen’s stay, and that he drowned after being pulled to sea by a rip current while swimming.

In the March 23 ruling, Norwood Carlton Tilley Jr., a senior U.S. district court judge, responded to motions from Duke and the Thackurdeens. 

He blocked the Thackurdeens’ negligence and wrongful death claims, ruling that those claims regarding Duke’s actions may rise to the level of negligence, but not to the legal ground of gross negligence. 

The Thackurdeens claim that the University and OTS failed to warn the students of the danger of swimming or to provide safety equipment, as well as that Duke and OTS failed to assist their son when he was drowning. The judge dismissed the claims on the grounds that the student and his parents had signed waivers releasing the defendants from such complaints prior to the trip. 

“Though undeniably tragic, there is nothing alleged regarding what Duke or OTS did or did not do in response to Ravi’s situation,” the opinion states. “Construing the Complaint in the light most favorable to the Thackurdeens, they fail to allege facts that would establish any intentional wrongdoing or deliberate misconduct on the part of Duke or OTS that led to Ravi’s drowning and would support a claim for gross negligence.”

This does not, however, absolve Duke of all charges. Tilley ruled that the University and OTS will have to face the complaint from the Thackurdeens regarding the claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress. 

The judge decided to look past claims by Duke about the timeliness of documents being served by the plaintiffs, denying the University’s complaint and granting an extension of time to the plaintiffs for the service of the documents.

The lawsuit, originally filed in September 2016, was seeking $75,000 for the complaints of negligence and emotional distress—although only the complaint regarding emotional distress remains. 


Bre Bradham

Bre is a senior political science major from South Carolina, and she is the current video editor, special projects editor and recruitment chair for The Chronicle. She is also an associate photography editor and an investigations editor. Previously, she was the editor-in-chief and local and national news department head. 

Twitter: @brebradham

Email: breanna.bradham@duke.edu

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