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Parents of Penn State student who died after a fraternity ‘hazing’ ritual settles case with university

The parents of Tim Piazza, who died after an alcohol-fuelled fraternity pledge party at Pennsylvania State University two years ago, filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against 28 former members of the fraternity, but settled with Penn State without filing a lawsuit, their lawyer said.

Neither the university nor Jim and Evelyn Piazza and their lawyer, Thomas R. Kline, would disclose the terms of the financial settlement with Penn State. They previously settled with the fraternity, Beta Theta Pi; the monetary terms of that agreement also were not disclosed.

Parents Jim and Evelyn Piazza sued 28 former fraternity members, alleging the men led hazing activities and failed to call for help long after it was needed.Credit:Centre Daily Times

As with the Beta Theta Pi agreement, the settlement with Penn State also includes a number of non-monetary terms aimed at making the school safer for other students.

"This leaves the civil suit to focus on holding accountable the individuals who planned and participated in the reckless hazing activities which caused Tim's death," Kline said in a statement Friday. "We expect this federal lawsuit to result in a trial to determine the shared responsibility of all those who contributed to the needless and senseless tragedy."

In February 2017, Piazza, a sophomore engineering major from New Jersey, drank copious amounts of alcohol at a pledge party as part of a hazing ritual and later fell down a flight of stairs. No one called for help for nearly 12 hours, and Piazza later died.

Dozens of fraternity members were charged in his death, though some of the most serious charges, including involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault, were thrown out in Centre County Court.

Twenty-three former Beta Theta Pi members have entered pleas to charges including hazing, conspiracy to commit hazing, and furnishing alcohol to minors, Joe Grace, a spokesman for the Attorney General's Office, said this month. Three cases remain open.

Video surveillance from the fraternity house on the night Piazza was fatally injured was played in court, showing Piazza and others moving through a drinking gantlet and chugging alcohol. The video also showed Piazza in the early morning staggering and falling in the fraternity house, dropping to his knees, clutching his injured head, and no one helping him.

Among the members named in the lawsuit are former fraternity President Brendan Young of Malvern and Daniel Casey of Ronkonkoma, NY, the pledge master.

The federal civil suit also names St. Moritz Security Systems Inc., which previously monitored fraternity parties for Penn State's Interfraternity Council.

The suit accuses the members of planning and orchestrating the hazing event that led to Piazza's death.

Fraternity members, the suit said, "negligently, recklessly, and outrageously forced, coerced, encouraged, or otherwise caused … Piazza to consume life-threatening amounts of alcohol, and caused him to become intoxicated, fall, and suffer grievous injuries and death."

Under the Piazzas' agreement with Penn State, the university will encourage fraternities to have a non-member, a trained adult, living in their houses, and to consider installing security cameras on their premises. The school pledged to continue to honor its permanent ban of Beta Theta Pi from campus and even to change some of the wording of its Greek life activities, including no longer using "pledge" or "pledging" on its website, instead saying "new member" or "new member affiliation activities."

The settlement also includes a continuation of changes the university implemented after Piazza's death, such as better education and training on issues such as alcohol and hazing.

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