The parents of a Penn State student who died after “writhing and deteriorating” in front of fraternity members who had forced him to consume massive amounts of booze have filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit, naming 28 frat members who hazed their son.
Tim Piazza, 19, whose death in February of 2017 has shined a national spotlight on the problem of hazing rituals on campus, “endured horrible pain and suffering” during the ordeal, according to the lawsuit, which cites video evidence seized from the Beta Theta Pi fraternity.
The video shows Piazza on a couch after he had tumbled down a set of stairs in a drunken stupor following a drinking ritual at the fraternity called “the Gauntlet.” He suffered a lacerated spleen, a skull fracture and other injuries that would have been survivable if he had received quick medical help.
Instead, he died two days later at Hershey Medical Center.
“Despite knowing the serious nature of Timothy Piazza’s fall, and despite knowing that some fraternity members wanted Piazza to receive medical care, the fraternity defendants did not seek medical care until it was too late,” says the lawsuit, announced Friday by the family and their attorneys, Kline & Specter of Philadelphia.
The lawsuit alleged that fraternity members realized the “grave consequences of their conduct” and tried to conceal evidence surrounding the hazing. The fraternity’s Penn State chapter has since been shut down.
Kline & Specter also disclosed Friday that it has reached a confidential monetary settlement with Penn State. A spokeswoman for the university said its settlement with the Piazzas, who had not sued the school, codifies the university’s reforms to fraternity and sorority life and shows “our mutual commitment to promoting positive change.”
The agreement with the university touches on safety and accountability for fraternities and sororities, encouragement of alcohol-free housing and continued training for bystander intervention and other preventative measures.
Authorities say Piazza, of Lebanon, New Jersey, suffered fatal injuries in a series of falls. Medical help was not summoned until the next morning.
The building’s elaborate system of security cameras captured events as Piazza and other pledges engaged in drinking rituals. After Piazza fell down the basement steps he had to be carried up to a first-floor couch, where he spent the evening and overnight in visible agony.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, alleges negligence, civil conspiracy, battery and infliction of emotional distress.
Piazza’s death resulted in criminal charges against 28 members of Beta Theta Pi, in many cases the same young men who were sued on Thursday.
Nearly all of those criminal charges have been resolved. Some have pleaded guilty to mostly alcohol- or hazing-related charges and others have entered a diversion program designed for first-time, nonviolent offenders.
Tom Kline, the Piazza family’s attorney, said Friday that the lawsuit aims to hold people accountable for Piazza’s tragic death.
“We expect this federal lawsuit to result in a trial to determine the shared responsibility of all those who contributed to the needless and senseless tragedy,” Kline said. “We look to the civil justice system to obtain a full measure of accountability.”
He said Piazza’s parents, Jim and Evelyn Piazza, have been crusaders for reform in the battle to stop fraternity drinking rituals and hazing.
“This lawsuit filing, and announcement of our sweeping out-of-court settlement with the university, marks two milestone developments in this long and difficult journey of Jim and Evelyn Piazza as they fight for the full measure of justice – and permanent Greek life reforms – in memory of their son following his preventable death.”
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