Parents of Penn State pledge sue frat members over fall death

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Saturday, February 2, 2019
Penn State frat 911 call: 'We have a friend who's unconscious'
Penn State frat 911 call: 'We have a friend who's unconscious.' Annie McCormick reports during Action News at 11 p.m. on May 8, 2017.

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania -- The parents of a Penn State sophomore who died two years ago after a night of drinking and hazing have sued 28 members of a shuttered fraternity and a security company hired to help enforce alcohol regulations.

Lawyers for Tim Piazza's parents announced the federal wrongful death lawsuit Friday and also disclosed they have reached a confidential monetary settlement with Penn State.

The lawsuit says that the night of Feb. 2, 2017, Piazza was pressured to consume a large amount of alcohol in the Beta Theta Pi house and "became stuporous."

"The fraternity defendants negligently, recklessly, and outrageously forced, coerced, encouraged or otherwise caused Pennsylvania State University sophomore Timothy Piazza to consume life-threatening amounts of alcohol, and caused him to become intoxicated, fall and suffer grievous injuries and death," the lawsuit alleges. "For more than 11 hours after his fall, Timothy Piazza endured horrible pain and suffering, which was documented by closed-circuit cameras."

Authorities say Piazza, 19, 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.

He was found to have suffered a fractured skull and severe abdominal bleeding, among other injuries.

Not all defendants in the new federal lawsuit face the same allegations. The Piazzas allege negligence, civil conspiracy, battery and infliction of emotional distress.

The battery claims involve allegations that fraternity members physically abused Piazza while he was incapacitated.

A lawyer for St. Moritz Security Services declined comment. Messages sent to lawyers for several of defendants were not immediately returned.

St. Moritz employed people who were paid to make checks of fraternity houses to see if they were complying with rules concerning hazing and drinking.

A Penn State spokeswoman 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 touches on safety and accountability for fraternities and sororities, encouragement of alcohol-free housing and continued training for bystander intervention and other preventative measures.

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.

A few defendants still face charges, but no trials are currently scheduled.


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Timeline of events that led to the death of Penn State fraternity member Timothy Piazza

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Penn State University fraternity brother speaks out after hazing death.

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1st sentencing in Penn State hazing case. Tamala Edwards reports during Action News Mornings on July 31, 2018.