Tuesday, August 08, 2006

University and Fraternity Deny Blame in Member's Death

MSUM, fraternity deny guilt in death
By Brittany Lawonn
The Forum - 08/08/2006

Minnesota State University Moorhead and Phi Sigma Kappa say they are not to blame for the death of 19-year-old Patrick Kycia last fall, according to court documents filed Friday.

The university and the fraternity are among 12 defendants named in the wrongful death lawsuit that cites them as negligent and liable for Kycia’s Sept. 23 death.

The lawsuit, initiated by Kycia’s family and filed July 25 in Clay County District Court, asks for at least $50,000 in damages.

Kycia was pulled from the Red River on Sept. 27, four days after he was reported missing after leaving a party at the Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity house, 611 10th St. S., Moorhead. Friends said he had been drinking heavily there.

Police found footprints leading to the river but weren’t sure if Kycia walked or fell in.

An autopsy revealed Kycia drowned, and his blood alcohol level was .17 percent.

The fraternity’s national headquarters, the owner of the fraternity house and eight people who were fraternity members at the time are also named in the suit.

The eight also faced criminal charges in connection to the case, ranging from gross misdemeanor charges of providing alcohol to minors to misdemeanor city charges of selling alcohol to minors.

The lawsuit claims “MSUM knew or reasonably should have known about a pattern of alcohol-related problems” at the fraternity, citing the March 2004 death of Jason Reinhardt, a former fraternity member who died at the house on his 21st birthday after a night of celebrating at a Moorhead bar.

The university says it did not know the fraternity had such a history and denies it has done nothing to address alcohol-related issues on campus, court documents say.

Phi Sigma Kappa formerly was recognized as a student organization, but according to court documents, MSUM says it has no interests in the property “nor is the house a ‘fraternity house’ in relation to the student organization recognition process.”

“This was a tragic circumstance for the Kycia family and for the university,” MSUM spokesman Doug Hamilton said Monday.

Phi Sigma Kappa suspended its Moorhead chapter in October.

The lawsuit alleges the fraternity had a “duty to act with reasonable care toward those” attending its events and “knew or reasonably should have known” that its drinking parties “created considerable risk of harm” to those attending them, the lawsuit says.

It also alleges that Kycia “was illegally provided with alcohol resulting in severe intoxication which caused his death. Once he became severely intoxicated, [the] defendants failed to use reasonable care to protect Kycia’s safety,” according to court documents.

The lawsuit says the individually named defendants could have prevented Kycia from consuming alcohol but instead furnished it to him, causing him to “become seriously intoxicated which directly resulted in his death.”

Fraternity members asked Kycia to go upstairs during the party despite being “aware that Kycia was severely intoxicated and did not have the ability to care for himself,” the suit says.

Phi Sigma Kappa argues that “any loss, injury or damage sustained as a result of Patrick Kycia’s death was directly caused and or contributed to by Patrick Kycia’s own fault or negligence,” court documents say.

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