Wolfe Styke sues MIT for $50,000

Claims security was negligent

Wolfe B. Styke ’10 is suing MIT and Russell J. Novello, a former Next House security guard, for $50,000 in a personal injury lawsuit filed in October in Middlesex Superior Court.

Styke was stabbed seven times by former Wellesley student Anna L. Tang in October 2007. Novello was the security guard who lent Tang a key to Styke’s Next House dormitory room. Novello, who is no longer employed by MIT, testified at Tang’s trial that he believed Tang was Styke’s girlfriend; he was unaware they had broken up.

As a result of his injuries, Styke finished his undergraduate work this past fall, a term late. He will continue as an M.Eng student in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science this spring.

According to the lawsuit, Styke claims that both MIT and Novello owed Styke “a duty of reasonable care,” which included providing security to Styke’s dorm room.

Novello “was negligent and careless in breach of his duty of reasonable care in allowing [Anna] Tang to access, enter, and be present in” Styke’s room, the lawsuit says.

According to the suit, Styke estimates his past expenses at $30,000: $10,000 in hospital expenses at Massachusetts General Hospital and MIT Medical, and $20,000 in lost MIT tuition. He anticipates $20,000 of future plastic surgery expenses, bringing the total to $50,000.

MIT has not yet filed its response to the suit. That response is due on Friday, Jan. 14.

The amount MIT might pay is limited, however. Massachusetts law restricts the liability of charitable corporations, like MIT, to $20,000, excluding costs and interest. Styke’s $50,000 represents costs.

Given that Novello has admitted to giving Tang access to Styke’s room and Styke’s injuries are well-documented, it seems likely that Styke will prevail in the lawsuit, or it will move quickly to a settlement.

If the case stays in the court system and there are no delays, it is scheduled to come to trial in February 2012. But court cases routinely see delays of months or years.

MIT’s lawyers declined to comment on the case, saying that it is pending litigation. MIT is not represented by outside counsel on this case at this time.

Styke’s attorney, W. Thomas Smith of Sugarman & Sugarman, declined to comment, saying it was not in the best interests of his client to do so. Styke himself also declined to comment.

Novello’s attorney, Anthony Pesce, could not be reached last night.