Hobe Sound man’s family can sue fraternity for fatal wreck

A Hobe Sound family might finally receive justice thanks to a Connecticut court decision this month. The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that a Yale University fraternity can be sued for negligence in connection with a 2003 highway crash that killed the Hobe Sound man and three other people. The victim was in an SUV being driven by a sleep-deprived fraternity brother who rammed into a crashed tractor trailer before dawn. Five other people were hurt in the crash.

The fraternity brothers were returning from New York City where they had been taken as part of “Hell Week,” an alleged hazing process for new initiates. Relatives sued the fraternity claiming its leaders had an obligation to safely transport the pledges back to campus. A lower court ruled that the fraternity had no such obligation but the state Supreme Court disagreed. The high court said the local chapter and the fraternity’s national office had a “duty of care” for the pledges.

The fatal wreck was caused by a combination of factors. The tractor trailer was apparently speeding in a construction zone when it flipped over a barrier into the oncoming lanes. The SUV with the fraternity brothers ran into the back of the truck. Investigators say the SUV driver had little sleep in the previous 20 hours, the area was poorly lit, and the weather was bad with snow and ice on the road.

The National Transportation Safety Board reported that poor conditions, fatigue, speeding, and lack of seat belt use contributed to the deaths. Grieving families sued the state of Connecticut, two construction companies and the fraternity. The suit against the state was dismissed because of government immunity and the construction companies settled. One family’s attorney called this a “sad” case, noting that instead of calling a car service to bring the pledges back home, the fraternity opted to put the pledges in the SUV piloted by a “very young and inexperienced driver.”

Source: The Associated Press, “Court: Fraternity can be sued in fatal Yale crash,” Dave Collins, Sep. 19, 2012