More than two years after the suicide of former College junior Timothy Hamlett, his mother, Katherine Frink-Hamlett, is suing Penn and Robin Martin, his former track and field coach.
The suit accuses Penn and Martin, who resigned at the end of the 2015-16 school year, of negligence and wrongful death. It alleges that Martin deliberately failed to inform Hamlett's parents or other Penn administrators that Hamlett had previously attempted suicide, constituting “gross negligence and a breach of the duty owed given the special relationship between a student-athlete and his coach.”
Acting as administrator of her son’s estate, Frink-Hamlett filed the suit on May 25 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
Penn spokesperson Stephen MacCarthy declined to comment, saying it is University policy to not comment on pending litigation.
According to the suit, Hamlett was recruited to run the 400m at Penn, but Martin — who also served as the men's and women's team's middle distance runners' coach — forced him to switch to the 800m race, which required even further stamina training, even though he was on academic probation.
The suit also states that in order to ease the transition from one race to another, Martin, or another member of Penn Athletics, purportedly “introduced Hamlett to a wide variety of so-called athletic supplements” and Martin required him to attend a special “study hall” in the Track and Field office twice a week.
Mike Mahoney, Penn's Director of Athletic Communications, said in an email that Penn Athletics will also not comment on ongoing litigation.
The suit alleges that in September 2014, an individual told Martin that Hamlett had attempted suicide. Instead of sharing this information with others in the athletic department, Martin called Frink-Hamlett and expressed concern over her son's marijuana use.
Following this phone call, Hamlett’s parents convinced their son to take a leave of absence from Penn and admitted him to an in-patient and out-patient drug rehabilitation center. According to the suit, he never underwent “any intensive and/or relevant mental health care because his parents nor any other divisions of UPENN were made aware of Hamlett’s suicide attempts.”
Hamlett went missing from his parents’ home in December 2014. His body was found on May 29, 2015. Authorities ruled his death a suicide.
“We never had any indication that our son was suicidal at all. It is important to me that people do know that this is what he did,” Frink-Hamlett previously told The Daily Pennsylvanian. “I don’t want to sweep it under the rug and avoid the reality of how he died.”
When contacted about this article, Frink-Hamlett declined to comment.
In September 2015, Frink-Hamlett signed an open letter to Penn President Amy Gutmann calling upon Penn to do more for the mental health of its students.
She has also filed a suit against various treatment centers in South Florida, Behavioral Health of the Palm Beaches, Lifescape Solutions and Into Action Treatment Center on her son’s behalf alleging malpractice.
Since February 2013, twelve Penn students have died by suicide. Frink-Hamlett's lawsuit is not the first time Penn has been sued by the relative of a student who has died by suicide.
In 2015 Penn was sued by Sujata Singh, the mother of Arya Singh, a Nursing student who died by suicide in 2013. Her complaint, which listed Amazon as a plaintiff, referred to alleged "unsympathetic, hostile and at times vindictive" actions on the part of members of the Penn administration toward Singh. The case was settled in January 2017.
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