The parents of Tim Piazza, who died after a booze-fueled fraternity pledge party at Pennsylvania State University two years ago, filed a wrongful-death suit Friday against 28 former members of the fraternity, but reached a settlement with Penn State without filing a lawsuit, their lawyer said Friday.
As with the Beta Theta Pi agreement, the settlement with Penn State also includes a number of nonmonetary 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. “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.
A total of 23 former Beta Theta Pi members have entered pleas to charges including hazing, conspiracy to commit hazing, and furnishing alcohol to minors, Joe Grace, a spokesperson for the Attorney General’s Office, said this month. Three cases remain open.
The case drew national attention as 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 gauntlet and chugging alcohol. The video also showed Piazza in the early morning staggering and falling in the fraternity house, dropping to his knees, and clutching his injured head, and no one helping him.
Among the members named in the suit are former fraternity president Brendan Young of Malvern and Daniel Casey of Ronkonkoma, N.Y., the pledge master.
Others named include Joseph Ems of Philadelphia; Casey Funk of Phoenixville; Nichola Kubera of Downingtown; Joshua Monckton of Yardley; Aidan O’Brien of West Chester; Michael Angelo Schiavone of Yardley; and Bohan Song of Wayne.
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.”
The suit seeks monetary damages from the twentysomething male defendants, The lawsuit has no relationship to the defendants' parents' assets, Kline said. If the Piazzas are successful, the judgments would be lodged against the young men and would “need to be paid with assets that they have now or in the future.”
Rocco Cipparone Jr., who represents defendant Michael Bonnatucci of Georgia, however, said the parents' homeowner policies could come into play if they cover negligence of those who live in the home.
William J. Brennan, who formerly represented Ems, questioned the impact of guilty pleas entered by some members.
“Unfortunately, for those who have entered guilty pleas, there may be collateral effects that hamper their ability to defend the civil case,” he said. “I wish them all well, as I do the Piazza family. This is a tragedy, but not all tragedies are crimes.”
Cipparone said he doesn’t expect an effect in his client’s case. Although his client did plead guilty to several counts of hazing and conspiracy to commit hazing, none of the counts directly involved Piazza, he said.
“He had no interaction with Timothy Piazza that night at all,” Cipparone said.
Under the Piazzas' agreement with Penn State, the university will encourage fraternities to have a nonmember, 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.