URBANA, Ill. (WICS/WCCU) — The estate of Yingying Zhang is filing suit against two social workers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
The lawsuit also names accused killer and kidnapper Brendt Christensen.
The lawsuit stems from what was said in counseling sessions at the U of I Counseling Center. It alleges the center was to blame while Christensen was in their care, charging them with negligence and wrongful death.
While attending counseling sessions at the U of I, the lawsuit said Christensen admitted to having suicidal and homicidal thoughts.
Despite this, Christensen was allowed to continue working at the university.
"It's interesting that they filled this case in federal court,” said Suja Thomas, a University of Illinois peer and Sarah Pedersen, professor of law.
Thomas said there are still a lot of questions in the case.
"It's an interesting case. I can't quite figure it out because there aren't deep pockets here," she said.
Right now, the university isn't being sued, but technically state employees are since they work for U of I.
Thomas said this could be why the case was filed on the federal level.
"There may be a reason based on the fact you don't want a state judge to decide whether or not the state is liable,” she said. “Or it may be that they want the case to go faster because federal courts are oftentimes faster."
Even though the criminal trial is underway, the civil case is separate. This means Christensen would be tried again.
Thomas said many times, civil suits are easier to win than criminal cases.
"In the criminal case, you have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. In the civil case, you have to prove ponderous of the evidence, which is more likely than not,” she said.
It's still not clear who will represent Christensen and the U of I social workers, or if the case will even go to trial.
"This case is either going to be dismissed or it is going to be settled - that would probably be the outcome,” Thomas said.
Christensen's attorney did ask for his trial to be continued after the civil lawsuit was filed, but Wednesday morning the judge denied their motion.
In a statement, the University of Illinois said,
“We have not received any formal notification of this litigation, but we will review any filings and respond appropriately."