News Tidbits 6/28/11: The Lawsuit Everybody Expected

28 06 2011

So, the Cornell Sun (on its bare bones summer staff) has noted that the mother of George Desdunes ’13, the SAE brother who died in a hazing event this past February, is suing the national fraternity for $25 million. I’m no expert on legal matters, but I do know this has significant precedent with cases from other universities, and SAE has been slapped with three wrongful death lawsuits  in just the past five years. Most of the wrongful death cases were settled out of court for undisclosed amounts, although at least one, a case against a University of Texas chapter of SAE, was awarded $16.2 million (I’m not positive, but I believe it’s the fraternity’s insurance company that pays out, but the fraternity then finds it that much more difficult and expensive to have adequate coverage for their liabilities, which is necessary for recognition on many campuses. So although the fraternity doesn’t pay out directly, their finances still detrimentally impacted).

Now, here’s my question: is she bring a lawful death lawsuit against Cornell?

In a previous entry, I described how a similar incident had occurred at M.I.T. back in the late 1990s with the death of a pledge at their FIJI chapter. In that case, the Kreuger family held M.I.T. responsible for a lack of supervision of the fraternity that allowed the death to occur. Although a formal lawsuit against the school was never filed, MIT did pay out $6 million to the family, of which $1.25 million went to a memorial scholarship. In hazing-wrongful death lawsuits, it seems, at a casual glance, that while it’s common for the fraternities local chapters and national organizations to be sued, it unusual for the school to be sued, perhaps because its much more difficult to build a case. But, I would not hold out against the possibility that if the lawyers are zealous enough, they can use the lack of supervision against Cornell and receive a similar settlement.  For one thing, SAE lived in a university-owned property and the incident allegedly took place in the Townhouses on North Campus.

So, the obvious take-away from this news is that SAE is screwed and totally responsible for their members’ actions. But in the bigger picture, one does wonder if the plaintiffs are going to try and go after Cornell as well.

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3 responses

29 06 2011
Elie

I know that our risk management insurance policy stated specifically that it did not cover illegal activity. So, an event that resulted from providing alcohol to a 19-year-old would not be covered. The insurance company might also argue that Desdunes died because of something that happened outside of the house, so they wouldn’t cover it.

As for the university’s liability, I don’t think the mother has much of a case. I know that Quinnipiac petitioned successfully to be removed as a defendant in a lawsuit a couple of years ago after a drunk student died.

1 07 2011
Weekly Chimes: June 27 – July 1, 2011 « All Along The Clocktower

[...] Ithacating in Cornell Heights characterized the lawsuit as the one “everybody expected” and appropriately asks: will the plaintiff seek damages from Cornell? [...]

23 08 2011
Stan Wulf

The U. of Texas SAE award of $16.2 million was overturned by the same judge who made the award. Eventually the lawsuit was settled for a much smaller amount.

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