A Tompkins County (N.Y.) judge has rejected a motion by Cornell University to toss a negligence and premises liability lawsuit brought against the school by the family of a student who allegedly died from fraternity hazing injuries.
Judge Gerald Keene’s ruling against Cornell allows the lawsuit, filed by the family of Cornell University freshman Antonio Tsialas, to move forward. The 19-year-old student was found dead on Oct. 26, 2019, two days after attending a Phi Kappa Psi fraternity party.
Antonio’s body was found in Ithaca’s Fall Creek Gorge. His cause of death was determined to be “multiple traumatic injuries,” the Ithaca Voice reported, citing lawyers for the family.
In November 2019, Antonio’s family offered a reward seeking more information about his death. They filed their lawsuit in January, naming Cornell University and multiple other defendants, including the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity and several students.
Some of the student defendants subsequently were dropped from the lawsuit and one reached a confidential settlement with the Tsialas family, resolving allegations.
Cornell filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit in August, arguing that the party Antonio attended was off campus. As such, the school could not “have a duty to protect Antonio from the dangerous activities of other students,” the motion argued, according to the Ithaca Voice.
Cornell lawyers also argued that the school had no duty to supervise the students because it didn’t plan or coordinate the fraternity party.
Judge Keene, however, ruled that the Tsialas family “pled a valid cause of action for negligence and premises liability against the defendant” and rejected Cornell’s bid.
According to the Ithaca Voice:
The legal team for the Tsialas family commented that the judge’s ruling was a crucial step in the case, which could have wider implications on cases with potential hazing factors. While Tsialas was not a member of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, the event he attended on Oct. 24 did reportedly have plenty of alcohol and drinking games; it was called a “dirty rush” event by Cornell President Martha Pollack, a way to recruit potential members.
Lawyers for the Tsialas family said the ruling was significant because it’s up to schools to take measures to “eradicate” hazing.
“The Court’s decision puts universities on notice that they can no longer simply sit back and blame hazing on their students,” Tsialas family attorneys said.
The Cornell University Police Department has not reached a conclusion in its investigation of Antonio’s death.
Premises liability law
Premises Liability is the responsibility a land or property owner has for accidents, injury or other incidents that occur on his real property. Real property may include buildings, machinery, wells, dams, pools, mines, canals, curbs and roads, among others. A property owner may also be liable for injuries that occur on his property as a result of conditions like snow and ice, wet floors, concealed holes, insufficient lighting, improperly secured mats or other hazards. Premises liability also applies to apartment complexes, sidewalks, road construction areas, elevators, escalators, playgrounds and amusement parks.
Negligent security is a related area of law, normally involving shootings, fights, stabbings, or other physical violence (including sexual assault) where severe injury or death occurs due to the establishment owner’s failure to take reasonable safety measures. When this occurs, the establishment owner, as well as those contractors charged with security, may be held responsible for the injuries suffered by individuals or groups of individuals on the premises.