Desdunes, Estate of George vs. Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity and Individual Defendants

Location: Kings County, New York

Marie Lourdes André, the mother of deceased Cornell University student George Desdunes, filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Kings County, New York, against Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity (“SAE”), its officers and members. The suit sought to hold SAE, its chapter officers and members responsible for his death by hazing as that term is defined generally, under the laws of the State of New York, and the Guidebook of Rights, Responsibilities, Requirements and Resources (the “Guidebook”) of Cornell University.

The lawsuit alleged that early in the morning of February 25, 2011, George was kidnapped by fraternity pledges of SAE as part of a longstanding fraternity ritual. The pledges bound George at his wrists and ankles with zip ties and duct tape. The pledges quizzed George about SAE and compelled him to consume alcohol until he lost consciousness and passed out numerous times. He required prompt, emergency medical treatment. Instead, SAE pledges and members took him to the fraternity house, still bound at the wrists and ankles, and dumped him on a couch where he was left to die.

George was found later that morning by Cornell personnel, with zip ties still around his wrists and ankles. One SAE pledge tried to interfere with the crime scene by having the zip ties removed before police arrived. George’s blood alcohol level was .409%, and his death was a result of hazing.

“No person deserves the indignity of being bound and tied at the wrists, then plied with alcohol, rendered unconscious, and left to die as part of some fraternity ritual. George was a fine young man, raised to be so by his devoted, caring mother, Godparents, Queen of All Saints Roman Catholic Church, the Berkeley Carroll School, and this community. George’s death has incited Marie to join the fight against fraternities, their dangerous rituals, and their refusal to stop activities that have killed at least one student every year for
the past 40 years,” attorney Doug Fierberg said.

George’s mother, Ms. André, said: “With the death of my son, I find some comfort in knowing that this lawsuit may bring about changes in fraternities that will prevent other families from suffering as I have.”

Ms.  André’s wrongful death lawsuit established a precedent in New York that enables victims of fraternity hazing and their families to hold national fraternities legally responsible for the death and other injuries caused by their members and chapters. SAE and its fraternity members spent years fighting the lawsuit, without success. When the fraternity defendants’ final effort to dismiss the lawsuit was rejected by the Court, we obtained a confidential, multi-million dollar settlement for George’s mother.

By holding accountable those responsible, both the individuals and the national fraternity, Ms. André obtained justice for the tragic and senseless death of her son, George.  In changing the way Cornell University handles claims of hazing, Ms. André effectively prevented others from enduring the same hardships she will forever suffer.

We were honored to support her efforts.

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