The family of Tucker Hipps has filed a lawsuit against Clemson University, Sigma Phi Epsilon National Fraternity, the South Carolina Beta Chapter and three members. The State newspaper has details of the suit, and links to the documents filed. The statements in the suit seem to match some of the rumors from around the time of Tucker’s death.
Disclaimer: The rest of this post is my personal opinion. I am not a lawyer, and the only legal education I have is two graduate-level courses in Higher Education Law.
While it is not explicitly spelled out in the suit, there appear to be entry points in the situation that could increase the exposure of both Clemson and Sig Ep National. The suit indicates that Clemson had decided two days prior to the death to temporarily suspend all fraternity new member activities due to drinking and hazing concerns. That suspension was to go into effect at 5:30 pm on the day that Tucker died on a run that began at 5:30 am. The question will be on why there was a delay in implementing the suspension when the concerns were so dire.
The entry point for increased liability for Sig Ep National is that the Clemson chapter was a “pledging” chapter, and had not accepted and implemented the fraternity’s “Balanced Man Program (BMP).” Sig Ep has had the BMP at the majority of its chapters for several years, and their data shows that it makes a notable difference in addressing risky behavior, and cuts down on insurance claims. During that time, Sig Ep has allowed several chapters to continue as “pledging” chapters, and not utilize the new program. The question that will need to be answered here is how can they allow chapters to operate in a risky manner when they have a solution to the problem already implemented at other chapters. This may raise the “duty of care” doctrine of negligence.
Unless the attorney for Hipps can overcome the inevitable petition to be removed from the case by Clemson and Sig Ep national, this is another case that is unlikely to see a courtroom.
As we look to the future of the fraternity/sorority world, it would actually be beneficial for the questions related to Sig Ep National and Clemson reached a court decision, and review upon appeal. This case will be closely watched.