Duke settles lawsuit about Swarthmore College student's death on study abroad program

Rip currents
Rip currents

The parents of Ravi Thackurdeen, a Swarthmore College student who drowned in a Duke-associated study abroad program, have settled their lawsuit against the program and the University.

Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations, confirmed last month that the lawsuit has been settled but did not release any details of the settlement. 

Neither the program's organization—the Organization for Tropical Studies—nor its lawyer responded to emails for comment. The attorney for the Thackurdeen family also did not immediately return a request for comment. The case was officially reported as settled in mediation August 1.

Thackurdeen was enrolled through Duke in an OTS program called Global Health and Tropical Medicine. On April 29, 2012, his last scheduled day of the trip, the program leaders led him and other students to a Costa Rica beach, where he was caught in rip currents and drowned.

Duke is no longer associated with OTS but remains listed as a member of its consortium of nearly 60 universities, according to the Durham-based program's website.

Thackurdeen's parents filed the lawsuit against OTS and the University in September 2016 in the Middle District of North Carolina. The lawsuit requested $75,000 in damages and cited claims of negligence, wrongful death and intentional infliction of emotional distress. 

In a March 23, 2018 ruling, Norwood Carlton Tilley Jr., a senior U.S. district court judge, dismissed the first two claims, but he ruled that Duke must face the claim of emotional distress.

As the lawsuit continued, OTS urged the court to resolve the case through mediation, claiming the organization lacked sufficient insurance coverage.

"The continuation of this litigation will deplete or exhaust the remaining resources of OTS very quickly," OTS said in its May 30 filing.

Before the lawsuit, Ros Thackurdeen, the student's mother, co-founded Protect Students Abroad in 2013. The group advocates for more information given to students and families before they travel, and for increased transparency when injuries occur. Through the group's efforts, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) introduced a bill, called the Ravi Thackurdeen Safe Students Study Abroad Act, last year to codify their causes in law.

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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