Sunday, November 30, 2008

SAE Gets New Trial in 2006 Hazing Death

District judge grants fraternity motion for new trial
By Miguel Liscano and Claire Osborn
Austin American-Statesman

A state district judge has reversed a $16 million judgment against the local and national chapters of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity.

Judge John Dietz Tuesday ordered a new trial in a case where the national and University of Texas chapters of the fraternity were sued by the parents of freshman pledge Tyler Cross, who fell to his death in 2006 after officials said he was subjected to hazing.

In October, Dietz ordered the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity to pay each of the parents of the Marietta, Ga., native $2.5 million for mental anguish and nearly $81,000 for funeral expenses, as well as additional damages.

Dietz issued the order in October after the national and local fraternity chapters failed to respond to a lawsuit filed in September. But state law allowed the chapters to seek a new trial if the representatives explained why they didn’t respond to the suit and could defend allegations against them.

In a press release, Jim Ewbank, an attorney for the fraternity, said: “The two Sigma Alpha Epsilon defendants put on evidence that showed their failure to file an answer to the lawsuit was an accident, and there were meritorious defenses to the family’s claim. The case will now proceed as if the Judgment had not been entered, and the defendants will have their day in court to prove that Tyler Cross’ death was an unfortunate accident.”

Travis County prosecutors began an investigation into the fraternity after Cross, pictured at right, fell from his fifth-floor balcony of an off-campus dormitory in November 2006.Copyright 2008. The Austin American-Statesman