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Thursday, May 08, 2014

Ind. Courts - Arizona case against national fraternity bears similarities to Indiana case

Jim Walsh and Anne Ryman report today in the Arizona Republic in a long story titled "A lawsuit in the drowning death of an Arizona State University students seeks justice, change." Some quotes:

A lawsuit seeks justice for the mother of a 19-year-old fraternity pledge who tragically drowned in the Salt River, but also seeks to hold a national fraternity accountable for the behavior that culminated in his death.

Jack Culolias' death in November 2012 after a fraternity sponsored social event at a Tempe bar helped to galvanize support for crackdowns on dangerous binge drinking that resulted in a series of deaths and injuries near Arizona State University.

The suit filed this week on behalf of Culolias' mother, Grace, attempts to hold the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity legally liable for the actions of the officers in its local chapter. It is part of a national trend also unfolding in Indiana, where another fraternity is under fire after the death of a student from Tucson.

"We're looking for accountability and responsibility from the national fraternity to change the way the local fraternity operates,'' said attorney Pat McGroder. "They are creating an environment of irresponsibility and recklessness." * * *

Legal experts say lawsuits against national fraternities are rarely successful.

National fraternities frequently take the position that they are an educational resource and leave the day-to-day decisions up to the local chapters, said Stephen M. Wagner, an Indiana attorney who has a lawsuit against a national fraternity, Delta Tau Delta, before the Indiana Supreme Court. Wagner represents a Tucson family whose son died after drinking at a fraternity party at an Indiana college.

The Indiana case is being watched closely by the legal community because it is believed to be the first time the Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled that a national fraternity must stand trial in the death of a local fraternity member. Many fraternities have their national headquarters in Indiana. The appeals court decision is awaiting a ruling in Indiana Supreme Court.

Here is a May 15, 2013 ILB post re the Indiana Court of Appeals opinion. Here is the docket for the case, Smith v. Delta Tau Delta. Note that this is a different case than the Feb. 13, 2014 Yost v. Wabash College, mentioned in this March 12, 2014 Smith docket entry:
This appeal concerns whether the fraternity was entitled to
summary judgment with respect to the death of an Indiana pledge.
The court recently addressed a similar question in Yost v.
Wabash College
, 3 N.E.3d 509 (Ind. 2014). The fraternity
requests leave to file a supplemental brief addressing Yost's
application to this case. That request is granted.
Brent E. Dickson, Chief Justice

Posted by Marcia Oddi on May 8, 2014 09:40 AM
Posted to Indiana Courts