The Philadelphia Personal Injury Law Blog

University of Pennsylvania Fraternity Pays $3M In Wrongful Death Lawsuit

A University of Pennsylvania fraternity will have to pay $3 million to the family of a man who fell to his death at a New Year's Eve party in 2011, reports The Philadelphia Daily News.

Matthew Crozier died when he fell from the second floor to the first floor at a Phi Kappa Sigma party. According to the wrongful death lawsuit, the staircase railing was weak and resulted in the fall.

Crozier was following a girl up the stairs at the party at 3 a.m. when he tripped and fell approximately 30 feet, writes Philly Burbs. He landed on his head and was rushed to the hospital with brain injuries, dying five days later.

Crozier had apparently been drinking, as well. The liquor store was also held liable for selling him two six-packs without checking to see if he was even old enough to drink. Suds Beer Store, the liquor store named in the lawsuit, agreed to pay the family $375,000.

The lawsuit focused on theories of negligence, addressing the duty that the fraternity owed to fix the railing, especially since they had knowledge of the deficient railing for over five years leading up to the accident.

Knowledge of a condition and the failure to fix the condition are key elements to a negligence case. The theory of negligence hinges on the idea that a party owes a duty and that the injury is caused by the breach of that duty.

According to The Daily News, the family’s legal team learned that the house had knowledge of the dangerous staircase through pre-trial discovery. This is the phase of the court case which happens leading up to a trial, where the parties on both sides gather information from the other party in order to prepare the questions (called interrogatories) or or requests for documents to the other party’s lawyers.

In many cases, information uncovered during the discovery phase can make or break a case. In the present case, the settlement came before the case headed to trial.

Will this case change the “Animal House” culture that prevails in most college fraternities? Doubtful. But it may scare some into taking safety concerns more seriously.

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