Parents Settle Suit Over Son’s Death After Frat Hazing

RENO, Nev. (CN) – A California couple who alleged that their son was hazed to death in 2016 when he was a freshman at the University of Nevada, Reno has settled their negligence lawsuit against a fraternity and several of its then-members.

Attorneys confirmed the confidential settlement on Monday in a stipulation for dismissal of the case filed in state court.

Ryan Abele, 18, died after falling down an unlighted basement stairway at a fraternity house following a night of heavy drinking as part of a ceremony for fraternity pledges called the “Reveal.”

His parents, John and Wendy Abele of Concord, California, sued the Delta XI Chapter of Sigma Nu Fraternity; Sigma Nu Housing Authority and Delta XI Housing Corp., identified as owners of the fraternity house; Eric Medina, Karsten Chung, Joel Kaufmann, Joseph Dayton, Kyle Sharp and James Mortimore, identified as members of the fraternity at the time; and Kyle Brice, identified as an adviser to the fraternity chapter.

Kaufmann had already reached a settlement, agreeing to pay $300,000 from an insurance policy.

The Abeles alleged in their complaint that their son had consumed a third of a bottle of 100-proof rum and was still heavily drunk when he was awakened at about 5:45 a.m. on Oct. 16, 2016, and ordered by one or more fraternity members to “get the f… downstairs” to the basement. Their son and other pledges were ordered to clean up the basement, a continuation of the prior night’s hazing.

Ryan Abele hit his head on a concrete wall at the bottom of the basement after falling. When he was admitted to the hospital a little more than an hour later, his blood-alcohol level was measured at .30, according to the suit. He died 11 days later.

The Abeles sought unspecified damages as well as medical and incidental expenses. In addition to negligence, their amended complaint also alleged the stairway at the fraternity house was dangerous and defective.

Ryan Abele and other pledges received written material in which fraternity members vowed not to engage in hazing and the misuse of alcohol, the Abeles said in their complaint. The complaint contended that the defendants, however, knew that hazing and alcohol abuse were “integral parts of the pledge process they designed and implemented…”

One of the fraternity members named in the suit argued in a motion that he couldn’t be held responsible under Nevada’s alcohol-related injury rule because Ryan Abele’s decision to consume alcohol was the proximate cause of his death.

But the Abeles replied in a motion that the individual defendants “actively and increasingly hazed” their son, as well as other members of the pledge class, “until they literally hazed him to death.”

The Abeles said in their complaint the fraternity was placed on probation in 2015 for violating the university’s Student Code of Conduct at a party called “Sigma Zoo,” in which underage drinking and intoxication occurred.

The probation lasted until the end of the spring 2016 semester, and the fraternity was required to create a set of risk-management policies and conduct an educational alcohol seminar, according to the complaint.

Sigma Nu announced in early 2017 that it had revoked the charter of the Reno chapter, established in 1914, because of alcohol and hazing-related violations. Its action followed the university’s decision to suspend recognition of the chapter for 15 years.

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