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Newsletter > September 2012 > "$7.2 Million Verdict Obtained Against Fraternity"
$7.2 Million Verdict Obtained Against Fraternity
Daniel McCarthy, Manley Burke
In May, a jury in the Putnam County Circuit Court in Tennessee delivered a total verdict of $8,000,000 in favor of a student who was injured at a recruitment event at the Phi Gamma Delta’s Tennessee Tech chapter house. The jury held the plaintiff 10 percent at fault and the fraternity 90 percent at fault, reducing the award to $7.2 million.
Samuel Dowlen was injured in August of 2009 when he attempted to use a giant slip and slide. According to published reports, the slip and slide ran down an embankment next to a parking lot. At the bottom of the embankment, a wooden ramp was set up, leading to an inflatable pool.
Mr. Dowlen slid down the slide, went up the ramp and landed in the pool. According to his lawsuit, upon landing, Mr. Dowlen was not able to move from his neck down. He ultimately underwent a spinal fusion surgery and months in physical rehabilitation. He has since regained some mobility and has reenrolled at Tennessee Tech.
Mr. Dowlen sued the local chapter, the Phi Gamma Delta national organization, and the chapter housing corporation. While the housing corporation was not found liable and the national fraternity was not found directly liable, the local chapter was found liable and the local chapter was found to be the national fraternity’s agent.
The factual situation in this case resembles the Matt Fritzie case. (See the January 2011 issue of Fraternal Law). In that case, Mr. Fritzie was injured when he dove into a temporary swimming pool at the University of Kansas chapter of Phi Gamma Delta. Mr. Fritzie broke his neck and became paralyzed.
These cases should stand as a stark reminder of the danger of makeshift “fun” devices, such as pools and slip and slides. However, following the Lambda Chi Alpha case at Elon University reported in this issue, it is difficult to connect liability to the national organization for cases such as this. This is a developing issue and look for more updates on this case in future issues of Fraternal Law.