Represented family whose beloved son and brother died as a result of hazing by members of Phi Kappa Tau during the Spring of 2007 at Rider University. Two senior university officials were indicted by a Grand Jury as a result of the hazing death, although the local prosecutor decided later to dismiss the indictment. Civil claims were filed against the University (its employees), the Phi Kappa Tau national and local chapter, and numerous fraternity members. Like many fraternity tragedies, the fraternity brothers and media wrongly portrayed this as an incident of binge drinking. In fact, the local chapter had a longstanding, unlawful tradition involving the use of dangerous quantities of alcohol as part of a big brother – little brother ritual. The alcohol was provided to pledges as their “family drink,” and pledges were coerced and pressured to consume the entire contents of the bottle as a sign of loyalty and brotherhood. To review one portion of the evidence establishing this dangerous ritual, the outrageous activities leading to our clients’ son’s death, and the failure by Phi Kappa Tau to act reasonably, please review the affidavit of the former president of the local chapter.
The case exposed significant shortcomings in the management of fraternities, including by Rider University. The family demanded – and was the first to obtain – historic, substantial concessions (non-monetary policy changes) in settlement against a university. Later, the National Fraternity initiated extensive similar changes. All of the family’s efforts have set new, higher standards designed to make campuses and students safer. The family also established new legal precedent, including the clear abolishment of the charitable immunity defense for fraternities in New Jersey. See Order. As the Court specifically ruled, “this Court finds that the defendants are fraternal organizations whose purpose is not solely charitable or educational, but rather partially to benefit its members, [thus] defendants’ claims do not survive the motion to dismiss.” As a result of these changes, this family’s efforts have ensured that fraternities are clearly obligated to supervise the conduct of their chapters and members and will be unable to assert time-worn defenses to evade legal responsibility for tragedies caused by their or their chapters’ misconduct. The following are publications from various news sources regarding this case: News Article 1, News Article 2. In August 2010, the family attended the placement of a plaque at Rider University in their son’s honor. The plaque was created and placed as one of many non-monetary conditions of settlement with the University. See photographs of the plaque, used with advance permission from the family: Photo 1, Photo 2.