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86 Yale Frat Members Sued Over Tailgating Death

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

Dozens of former Yale frat members -- 86, to be exact -- are being sued over a 2011 incident with a U-Haul truck which killed one tailgater and injured two others.

The ex-members of Sigma Phi Epsilon are being sued by the family of 30-year-old Nancy Barry, who was killed after being struck by the U-Haul truck, reports Connecticut's WVIT-TV. The national chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon has disavowed any connection to the incident.

Will these 86 former frat members also be able to avoid liability for Barry's death?

U-Haul Trucks et Veritas

Barry's death occurred in the tailgate area of a Harvard-Yale football game after Yale Sigma Phi Epsilon member Brendan Ross accelerated and swerved out of control in a U-Haul truck, striking three tailgaters. Both Barry's estate and an injured Yale student, Sarah Short, are suing all 86 members of the local Sigma Phi Epsilon chapter for the damage caused by Ross, reports the Yale Daily News.

Normally, those injured by members of organizations like Sigma Phi Epsilon would simply sue the fraternity itself. But under Connecticut law, the local Sigma Phi Epsilon chapter was a voluntary organization and cannot be held liable for the injuries and death caused by Ross. Connecticut's Supreme Court has ruled that in general, local fraternity chapters owe no general duty to protect or control its adult student members.

In addition, the national fraternity "has all but abandoned its Yale chapter" which hadn't even been incorporated (hence the "voluntary association" designation), a lawyer for Barry's estate told WVIT. So he and Short's lawyers are moving forward by suing the parties they can -- the 86 members of the fraternity.

Criminal Case Pending

Ross was initially charged with negligent homicide, reckless endangerment, and reckless driving in connection with Barry's death, reports WVIT.

But according to his court documents, Ross is currently only facing a misdemeanor charge for first-degree reckless endangerment, which may be because of his participation in a diversion program. In a diversion program, first-time or low-level offenders may participate in court-ordered rehabilitation in exchange for dropped or reduced charges.

Nevertheless, a conviction for reckless endangerment would be a boon in the civil cases against the 86 frat members, as it would be solid evidence of Ross' recklessness. But if Ross' criminal diversion program allows him to skate without any convictions, Short and Barry's lawyers will have to prove his negligence and/or recklessness by other means.

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