DeVercelly, Estate of Gary, Jr. vs. Rider University, Phi Kappa Tau Fraternity and Individual Defendants

New Jersey Superior Court, Mercer County, Law Division, Docket No. MER-L-003199-07

Gary L. DeVercelly, Jr. died from acute alcohol poisoning during a fraternity hazing ritual on March 30, 2007 at Rider University.  His death resulted from a Phi Kappa Tau (PKT) fraternity “Big Brother – Little Brother” initiation ritual where pledges were introduced to their big brother’s and so-called “family drink,” and compelled to consume intoxicating amounts of that alcohol as signs of brotherhood and fraternity loyalty.

The settlement has two primary components, one of which is confidential.  First, Rider and these defendants agreed to pay a significant amount of money to the DeVercelly family.  Second,  the DeVercelly family accomplished their goal of honoring the memory of their son Gary and protecting other families from similar harm by obtaining Rider’s agreement to make unprecedented changes in the way it manages and permits fraternities to operate on campus.  Some of these non-economic terms include Rider’s adoption of policies that:

  • Render Greek organizations “dry” by banning the use of alcohol at all Greek social events in residence halls and Greek houses on campus;
  • Strengthen sanctions and require parental notification for all alcohol policy violations;
  • Strengthen sanctions for hazing violations;
  • Establish live-in directors to oversee a code of conduct enforcement in all Greek houses;
  • Establish a “Good Samaritan” policy that encourages students to seek help first for medically compromised students without fear of campus repercussions; and
  • Require publication of fraternity misconduct on the Greek Affairs portion of Rider’s website so that students, parents and the general public are advised about these incidents and potential risks.

Of the many unprecedented changes, the requirement that fraternity misconduct be published on Rider’s website represented a historic change for universities.  At that time, there were no means for parents to learn about the overwhelming number of incidents of misconduct, injuries, and deaths that take place at fraternities.  In fact, most universities published only one-sided promotional information about fraternities; which helped fraternities keep tragedies and incidents of misconduct far from public view.

For example, the DeVercelly family only learned through litigation that just the year before, the same Phi Kappa Tau (PKT) fraternity chapter that Gary died at had been sanctioned, because another student pledge almost died of alcohol poisoning.  The DeVercelly family ensured that others can learn of these risks before making important decisions about whether or not to join a particular fraternity because parents and students deserve to know the truth about the dangers on campus.

From this tragedy, and the settlement reached with Rider University, the family sought and obtained fundamental changes in the way Rider and fraternities on its campus are allowed to conduct business.

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