Yale fraternity sued over 2011 tailgating accident

Eighty-six current and former members of Sigma Phi Epsilon’s Yale chapter are being sued in two concurrent lawsuits, relating to a fatal accident prior to the 2011 Harvard-Yale football game.

The incident took place when one fraternity member lost control of a U-Haul truck while driving to meet his brothers at a tailgate. One woman was killed, and a Yale student and Harvard employee were each injured.

Sig Ep’s national fraternity has distanced itself from the Yale chapter, which has made for the unique legal situation. Normally members are covered by the national insurance plan, in this case Liberty Mutual of Boston. However, due to the disassociation, prosecution cannot go after Sigma Phi Epsilon, but rather every individual member of the fraternity in 2011, regardless of whether they were present at the time of the accident.

“[The national fraternity and its insurance], to try to save money, are trying to distance themselves from the case,” [prosecuting attorney Joel] Faxon said. “[The local chapter] has been thrown under the bus … by the national fraternity, so the only remedy that our client has is to sue the local fraternity.”

On the surface it seems like abandonment by the national fraternity, especially considering that chapter dues go towards insurance coverage. However, on the account that 84 defendants now share the same counsel, an attorney representing the deceased victim’s estate believes there are back-room negotiations taking place.

“I would be surprised if all the fraternity members had collectively gotten together and decided to hire one lawyer on such short notice,” Edwards said. “The odds are very high that he was appointed to represent them by the national fraternity.”

In the event of a settlement or award of damages, Faxon says that fraternity members will likely pay through their parents’ homeowners’ and automotive insurance. He also predicts those respective agencies to file suit against the national chapter, which would in-turn take responsibility for the original damages.