Sunday, September 27, 2009

Rider University Settles Lawsuit Involving Alcohol Related Death

University settles DeVercelly lawsuit
by Julia Ernst

The lawsuit stemming from the March 2007 death of a freshman pledge in an alleged fraternity hazing incident has been settled “amicably,” Rider announced yesterday.

A statement on the university Web site revealed that Rider, its insurance carrier and the family of Gary DeVercelly Jr. have reached a confidential settlement in the lawsuit DeVercelly, et al. v. Rider University, et al., that was pending in the Superior Court of New Jersey. No financial amount was disclosed to the public.

The family of Gary DeVercelly Jr. filed a wrongful death lawsuit naming the university; Ada Badgley, director of Greek Life; Cassie Iacovelli, former assistant dean of Campus Life who retired at the end of the 2008-2009 academic year; and Adriano DiDonato, former residence director and house director of the Phi Kappa Tau (PKT) fraternity house. The suit followed the March 30, 2007, death of DeVercelly. The 18-year-old died after a fraternity event in the PKT house where he accumulated a blood alcohol level of 0.426 percent.

According to the statement issued by the university yesterday, the settlement resolves “all claims the DeVercelly family brought against Rider University and its current and former employees.” The settlement includes both a financial aspect and the confirmation that the university has implemented policies and programs to “manage Greek organizations and help ensure compliance with Rider’s Student Code of Conduct.” In addition, according to the university release, the settlement “does not contain any admission of liability by the University, Ms. Badgley, Ms. Iacovelli or Mr. DiDonato.”

In addition to the lawsuit filed against the university, Badgley, Iacovelli and DiDonato, the DeVercelly family filed claims against the PKT fraternity.

However, the resolution reached among the family, the university and the three individuals is in no way related to the claims against PKT and “does not settle that case,” according to Dan Higgins, executive director of University Communications.

“That was a separate lawsuit that the family is pursuing against the fraternity,” Higgins said.

The policies and programs that have been put into place since DeVercelly’s death in 2007 were developed through recommendations issued by thePresidential Task Force on Alcohol, Personal Responsibility and Student Life, Higgins explained. They include strengthening sanctions for hazing violations, establishing residence-based directors to oversee code-of-conduct enforcement in all Greek houses, as well as establishing a Good Samaritan policy that encourages students to seek help first for medically compromised students without fear of campus repercussions, according to Higgins.

“The university is encouraged with the progress we’ve been making regarding our alcohol policy, that alcohol policy violations were down slightly from the previous academic year, and that the majority of those alcohol violations over those two years did not include excessive alcohol consumption,”

Higgins continued, referring to the number of violations during the 2006-2007 academic year compared to the 2007-2008 academic year. “Medical transports due to excessive alcohol consumption decreased during the 2007-2008 academic year when compared to 2006-2007.”

Higgins said that these positive trends have been encouraging signs for the Rider community as a whole and for those who worked to implement the changes.

“These are important steps in the right direction as we continue to educate students about the dangers of alcohol and substance abuse, while also encouraging healthier and safer decision-making,” Higgins said.

Contrary to a number of published reports yesterday by local and national news outlets, the university is not becoming a dry campus. In addition to the policies and programs that were put in place over the 2007-2008 academic year, there is only one new policy the university has implemented as a result of the settlement with the DeVercelly family.

“The university has agreed to require publication of incidents involving fraternity misconduct on the Greek Life portion of the Rider Web site,” said Higgins.

According to an article published online by the Trentonian, the DeVercelly family issued a statement about the settlement.

“Nothing will ever bring Gary back, or ease the grief our family has suffered,” said Gary’s mother, Julie DeVercelly. “The devastation is made even worse knowing that his death was caused by hazing and should have been prevented.”

The university Web site said Rider is “pleased to amicably resolve this matter with the DeVercelly family. Reaching an agreement with the DeVercellys allows all of the parties to avoid a prolonged and costly court battle.”

Julie DeVercelly expressed similar sentiments about the resolution of the lawsuit.

“We sought to create meaningful changes that would honor Gary and protect others and we have done so in our settlement with Rider,” she said.

http://comm.rider.edu/wordpress/2009/09/25/university-settles-devercelly-lawsuit/