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CT Supreme Court Overrules Lower Court in Fraternity Death Case

Plaintiffs Allowed To Proceed in its Wrongful Death Lawsuit Against Yale Fraternity

The Connecticut Supreme Court recently ruled that a Yale University fraternity can be sued in connection with a 2003 motor vehicle crash that killed four Yale students.

The crash occurred on I95 in Fairfield when the students’ SUV slammed into a disabled tractor-trailer that had also crashed a short time before. The students were returning from an activity in New York City as part of “hell week” or the initiation period of new fraternity pledges.

The lawsuit involving the death of four students was also initiated against the State of Connecticut Department of Transportation (DOT) and two construction companies for alleged safety hazards. The lawsuit against the fraternity alleged that it had a duty to provide safe transportation home for its pledges and in negligently choosing a student as the driver who had little sleep that week and was awake for nearly twenty hours before the crash.

Lawyers for the fraternity stated that it should not be held liable because it could not have foreseen the “series of unfortunate events” that led to the accident. A Superior Court Judge ruled in favor of the fraternity in 2009, holding that the fraternity did not owe the plaintiff a “duty of care” while transporting the students back from New York City to New Haven.

The Connecticut Supreme Court recently ruled that a sufficient level of control would be necessary in order to impose liability on the national fraternity chapter because generally there is no duty that requires a party to aid and/or protect another without a relationship of custody or control. The Supreme Court found that based on the evidence presented the plaintiff raised an issue of fact regarding the national fraternity's control over the local fraternity.

The Court concluded that the determination of that level of control exerted by the national organization over the local chapter and the extent to which it was aware that the local chapter was not following certain risk management policies was a question that should be left for a jury or fact finder to determine.

            The Court therefore overruled the lower courts decision dismissing the case and permitted the case to proceed against the fraternity.

Richard P. Hastings is a Connecticut personal injury lawyer at Hastings, Cohan & Walsh, LLP, with offices throughout the state. A graduate of Fordham Law School, he has been named a New England Super Lawyer and is the author of the books: "The Crash Course on Child Injury Claims"; "The Crash Course on Personal Injury Claims in Connecticut" and "The Crash Course on Motorcycle Accidents." He has also co-authored the best selling book "Wolf in Sheep's Clothing- What Your Insurance Company Doesn't Want You to Know and Won't Tell You Until It's Too Late!" He can be reached at 1(888)CTLAW-00 or by visiting www.hcwlaw.com.

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