Man sues over fall from UW fraternity
Last updated June 30, 2008 7:53 p.m. PT
By AMY ROLPH
A University of Washington graduate who fell from a fourth-floor fraternity-house window three years ago filed a lawsuit against the fraternity earlier this month, claiming that the fall stemmed from a culture that promotes alcohol consumption coupled with a dangerous sleeping environment.
Erik Anderson, a freshman pledge when he was injured at the Delta Upsilon house in April 2005, wants the fraternity to pay for medical costs his family incurred after he slipped from a window and fell about 45 feet to a parking lot. Anderson, who was 19 at the time, had been drinking at a chapter-coordinated "Trashed Tuesday" party earlier in the evening.
Anderson has undergone three years of physical therapy to help repair damage to his arms, pelvis, lower spine and nervous system. He is not wheelchair-bound, but says he had to give up plans to become a dentist because of how his wrists were damaged in the fall.
Court documents filed June 18 state that Anderson's medical expenses have totaled more than $279,000 so far, and that his parents have suffered about $20,000 in damages related to his injuries.
The lawyer representing Anderson and his parents said the lawsuit is a last resort after years of running into dead-ends with the fraternity's insurance company.
"The insurer for Delta Upsilon has failed to acknowledge the claim, failed to communicate regarding to the claim, and we are going to very aggressively pursue this case," said lawyer Christopher Pence. "In addition to compensation for Erik and his family -- for what they've gone through, and what Erik will need to cope throughout his life -- we'll be asking the court for an injunction against the Delta Upsilon fraternity, to clean up its act."
The lawsuit names Delta Upsilon as a defendant, as well as Caledonia Bay Builders, a Seattle-based construction firm that installed the window Anderson fell from.
Anderson graduated from the UW with a degree in business June 15, the same day another student died after falling from a fraternity-house window. That student, 21-year-old Kevin McDonald, a UW junior, fell from a third-story window of the Alpha Sigma Phi fraternity house.
Members of that fraternity reported that McDonald was either getting into or out of bed when he fell out the window. A police report taken shortly after McDonald's fall said fraternity members believed he had been drinking earlier that night.
Less than one month earlier, on May 24, a 20-year-old man suffered injuries to his head and feet when he fell from the roof of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house, where he had gone "to see the sunrise," according to a police report. Fraternity members reported that the man had also been drinking, but they couldn't tell officers where the underage man got the alcohol.
Court documents filed June 18 allege that Anderson's 2005 fall followed a regularly scheduled "Trashed Tuesday" party -- an "illicit, binge drinking party in a dedicated clandestine bar" in the fraternity's attic.
Fraternity members took great care to conceal attic parties from being discovered by university officials, police and the state Liquor Control Board, according to parts of the Delta Upsilon Risk Management Procedures, a document quoted in the court filings.
"During attic parties, guests will be ushered into the back storage area where they will be informed to stay and be quiet." the procedures read. "Both attic door and attic storage door will be locked."
Calls made Monday seeking comment from UW fraternity groups, the fraternity's legal representation and the national Delta Upsilon organization were not returned.
Pence, the lawyer, said Anderson's parents read material posted on the fraternity's Web site and were led to believe that the chapter had policies to help regulate the consumption of alcohol.
"Despite mouthing a lot of platitudes and reassurances to parents about 'responsible drinking', the place was at the time, and it is today, a bar and lounge that completely ignores state law, (the fraternity's) own published policies, and the promises it makes to perspective pledges and their parents," Pence said.
Court documents state that Anderson's fall later in the evening was also the result of an unsafe sleeping environment: a top-bunk bed with no safety railings pressed up against a 58-inch-by-50-inch window that swung out at a 90-degree angle.
The window, which was held shut by a latch, was installed four months earlier by Caledonia Bay Builders.
The lawsuit alleges that the company was not in compliance with Seattle building codes when it installed the windows.
A call to Caledonia Bay Builders was not returned.