The Cookeville (TN) Herald Citizen reports that a student at Tennessee Tech has been awarded $7.2 million in a case resulting from an enhanced slip-n-slide accident in 2009. The incident took place as part of a Welcome Week event sponsored by the Phi Gamma Delta (Fiji) chapter at TTU. The student had spinal damage as a result of the slide. The slide went down an embankment, and had a wooden ramp to a kiddie pool at the end.
The article indicates that the incident took place in a park on campus property. The suit also named the University, but TTU was found not responsible by the jury.
The article does not clarify if the judgment was against the Theta Tau Chapter, or against the Phi Gamma Delta National Fraternity.
The fact that this case went to trial raises several questions.
1. Why was TTU so confident that they would not be held responsible to allow the case to be heard? Most University’s will settle before the trial if they feel that there is any chance that they are responsible. The fact that this occurred on campus makes me wonder how they avoided liability.
2. How vigorous was the defense by the fraternity? And what entity was defined by the term “fraternity” (local chapter/National organization)? Did Fiji’s insurance provided fund the defense? According to the TTU website, the Fiji chapter remains active on campus. I wonder how they will come up with $7.2 million dollars.
3. Was the slip-n-slide event something that was covered by Fiji’s insurance policy?
This case will certainly be appealed (probably a couple of times) and dragged out as long as possible. The best scenario for the student/family is to negotiate a settlement with the Fiji insurance provider (if they are actually involved) as quickly as possible. While the case indicates that the student won, it feels like he lost with the University being relieved on any liability. Everything about this feels like his ideal result would have been a settlement with TTU (they might actually be able to pay something).