Tuesday, February 04, 2014
HARTFORD, Conn. — Dozens of current and former members of a fraternity at Yale University are being sued over a deadly tailgating crash at the 2011 Yale-Harvard football game in New Haven.
A U-Haul truck carrying beer kegs heading to the Sigma Phi Epsilon tailgating area outside the Yale Bowl fatally struck 30-year-old Nancy Barry, of Salem, Mass., and injured two other women. Brendan Ross, a Yale student and fraternity member who was driving the truck, entered a probation program that erased the criminal charges against him.
Barry’s family and one of the injured women, Yale student Sarah Short, first sued Ross, the national chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon, Yale, U-Haul and others, seeking damages for Barry’s death and Short’s injuries. Those lawsuits remain pending.
The plaintiffs’ lawyers said they filed new lawsuits Dec. 30 against 86 former and current members of the Yale chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon after the national chapter of the fraternity, based in Richmond, Va., and its insurer disclosed part of their defense — that the national chapter wasn’t responsible for the Yale chapter’s actions, didn’t sanction the tailgating event at the game and its insurance company doesn’t cover non-fraternity events.
The Yale chapter is a voluntary association, is not incorporated or organized in any legal way and is not insured itself, said Paul Edwards, the lawyer for Barry’s estate. He said those facts prompted the lawsuits against former fraternity members, who belonged at the time of the crash, and current members.
Edwards said filing the new lawsuits was “a move that we were forced to take by the defense and the posturing of the national fraternity’s lawyers.”
“They are effectively cutting off its local chapter and members,” Edwards said. “I think that defense is bogus. It’s our claim that what happened at Yale two years ago was very clearly, definitively and obviously a Sigma Phi Epsilon-sponsored fraternity event.”
Jeremy Platek, a White Plains, N.Y., lawyer representing nearly all the past and current Yale chapter members, declined to comment on the lawsuit Wednesday.
Short’s attorney, Joel Faxon, also criticized the defense strategy by the Sigma Phi Epsilon’s national chapter and its insurer as illegitimate, saying there’s no doubt the national chapter is liable. He said the strategy forced him to sue the fraternity members.
“It’s a completely unnecessary effort we’ve gone through that caused unnecessary agitation to all of the individuals we had to sue and no doubt their families,” Faxon said.
Faxon said Platek is representing the fraternity members on behalf of the national chapter’s insurer.
An attorney for the national chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon didn’t immediately return a message.
State prosecutors said the accident happened outside the Yale Bowl on Nov. 19, 2011, when Ross was driving a truck carrying beer kegs in a parking lot crowded with pedestrians while on the way to the fraternity’s tailgating area. The truck turned a corner and sped up, striking the three women, authorities said.
Ross, of O’Fallon, Mo., had revved the truck’s engine in an effort to get pedestrians to move, but the vehicle took off, prosecutors said. Ross told police he tried to hit the brake but hit the gas pedal instead. Ross passed a field sobriety test after the accident and was charged with negligent homicide and reckless driving.
Last February, he was granted accelerated rehabilitation, which allows the charges to be erased after a probation period, and ordered to perform 400 hours of community service.
After the accident, Yale tightened its tailgating rules. It now bans kegs at university athletic events and other functions. Also, oversized vehicles, such as box trucks and large commercial vehicles, are barred from university lots at athletic events unless they are driven by a preapproved authorized vendor.