URBANA, Ill. (WAND) - The estate for Yingying Zhang is suing her accused killer and two social workers at the University of Illinois Counseling Center for wrongful death and negligence.
Zhang is presumed dead, although her body was never found.
The visiting Chinese scholar disappeared after accepting a ride from Brendt Christensen on campus in June of 2017.
He is accused of kidnapping and killing her and facing the death penalty if convicted.
The criminal trial begins Wednesday.
The News Gazette reports the estate is seeking compensatory and punitive damages "in an amount to be determined at trial."
The federal lawsuit was filed on behalf of the administrator of Zhang's estate and a lawyer based in McLean County.
The News Gazette reports the 20-page lawsuit was filed Friday.
The family's lawyer in Urbana told the News Gazette the first time he saw the lawsuit was Monday morning, and it has nothing to do with what he is doing for the family.
"It doesn't have anything to do with what I'm doing for the family," said Beckett, who has been helping the family through the legal process of the Christensen criminal trial.
Christensen's lawyers want to agree in court that the UI Counseling Center failed to give him adequate care. He visited the center a couple of months before Zhang disappeared. He had previously been treated for depression and sleep issues.
The defense's motion said Christensen told an intern at the counseling center he had been abusing alcohol and Vicodin, was depressed after dropping out of the University of Illinois physics Ph.D. program and about his wife opening their marriage. He also said he had an interest in serial killers.
The intern's notes also show he admitted to having thoughts about committing a murder and that he had purchased some items to put a plan in place, but had returned the items.
That intern requested Christensen get a consult with someone else, the News Gazette reports.
He came back to the counseling center nine days later, telling a social worker about problems in his marriage and hinted at possible suicide, but said he was feeling better now.
That social worker referred him to a licensed clinical social worker.
He told that person he had thoughts about murder. He said he would think about how someone could kill a person and get away with it. He also said he had bought items that could be used to dispose of a body. However, he said he had thrown those items out.
The lawsuit alleges the social workers who interviewed Christensen knew he was a high-level threat to others. It said, while they initiated a treatment plan, they acted with indifference to his known risk of harm to others at the school.
The lawsuit also criticizes the fact that Christensen was allowed to keep working as a graduate teacher at the university in good standing.
The lawsuit claims the two social workers stopped treating Christensen without "initiating any emergency or acute treatment options... to sufficiently safeguard the students at the University from the foreseeable threat of harm posed by" Christensen.
The News Gazette reports the lawsuit goes on to say this allowed Christensen to believe "his treatment plan was satisfactorily concluded, which encouraged (his) homicidal ideations to become exacerbated and heightened."
It also said the treatment plan "did not include any intervention by the University officials, human resources, or law enforcement."