86 Yale Sig Ep Members Being Sued Over Accidental 2011 Tailgate Death

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From the Yale Daily News:

Eighty-six current and former members of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity at Yale are the targets of two new lawsuits over a fatal collision at the 2011 Harvard-Yale tailgate that left one woman dead and two others injured.

Thirty-year-old Nancy Barry, of Salem, Mass., was killed in November 2011 when a U-Haul truck driven by Brendan Ross ’13 — heading toward the tailgate area assigned to the fraternity at the Yale Bowl — accelerated and swerved out of control. Sarah Short SOM ’13 and Harvard employee Elizabeth Dernbach were also injured.

Last month, Short and Barry’s estate filed new suits, identical but separate, individually naming all the students who were members of the Yale chapter of the fraternity at the time of the crash, regardless of whether or not they were present at the tailgate.

According to the report, both complainants are seeking sums in the millions.

What’s especially interesting about this case, aside from the fact that kids who weren’t even present are being individually sued, is why they’re being individually sued.

According to Faxon, although Short initially sued the national Sig Ep fraternity in 2012, National Sigma Phi Epsilon Director of Risk Management Kathy Johnston said in a deposition that, legally, the local chapter and national association have nothing to do with each other. Furthermore, the national fraternity’s insurance — Liberty Mutual of Boston — does not cover actions by the local chapter, leading Short to sue the local chapter itself.

“[The national fraternity and its insurance], to try to save money, are trying to distance themselves from the case,” Faxon said. “[The local chapter] has been thrown under the bus … by the national fraternity, so the only remedy that our client has is to sue the local fraternity.”

Faxon said that in his 20 years of litigation, he has never seen such an arrangement, as national fraternities typically come to the aid of their local chapters. Because of Connecticut law, which defines the chapter as a voluntary association, the chapter can only be sued by way of its individual members.

“I have no doubt that each and every one of [the members in 2011], in paying dues to the national organization, had an expectation that the national organization was going to get them the insurance coverage they needed and was going to stand with them,” Edwards said.

The claimants’ attorneys are droppin’ some pretty harsh “Fuck You” bombs on Sig Ep Nationals here. Though Sig Ep Nationals might seem like they’ve bailed on the Yale chapter, it’s more likely that they’ve simply done some adept legal maneuvering and regrouping. Short’s attorney, Paul Edwards, even admits that Sig Ep Nationals probably haven’t abandoned their members.

According to documents filed in Connecticut Superior Court Monday, 84 of the defendants are now represented by Jeremy Platek, an attorney based in White Plains, N.Y.

Edwards said Platek’s representation of the defendants is likely a sign that the national fraternity is beginning to take greater responsibility for the case.

The whole case sounds like it’s going to be a confusing, ongoing shit show, especially if a settlement is reached or damages are rewarded.

In the event of an award of damages or settlement, Faxon said, the fraternity members would likely pay through their parents’ homeowner’s or automobile insurance. Faxon predicted that the defendants’ insurance agencies would in turn sue the national fraternity and Liberty Mutual Insurance. Eventually, he said, the national association would likely take responsibility for any damages awarded by a jury, but the timeline for such an event remains to be determined.

That’s a mess. And while Sig Ep may be doing some objectively understandable legal maneuvering, it’s not like anyone expects people to be all that honest and honorable once the lawyers come out and serious money is at stake, it’s pretty shitty that they’re putting their members, and their members’ parents, through all of this just to keep as much distance between themselves and the case as possible.

[via Yale Daily News]

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