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Yale Frat Must Face Negligence Claim

(CN) - A Yale University fraternity chapter must face a negligence claim from the estate of a pledge who died in a car accident, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled.

Nicholas Grass was trying to join Delta Kappa Epsilon's Phi chapter at Yale in January 2003. He participated in "Hell Week," which featured the most grueling tests of a pledge's resolve to join the fraternity.

For Yale's chapter of Delta, this included depriving the pledges of sleep throughout the week, as well as a "search and rescue mission."

This involved the pledges capturing a member of the fraternity while the others try to locate him.

The mission took place in New York City, and the members and pledges were to return via train or in cars with designated drivers.

Grass returned to campus in a car driven by Sean Fenton, who had agreed to be a designated driver.

Fenton hadn't been drinking, but he also hadn't been sleeping much, either. He crashed a Chevrolet Tahoe into a disabled 18-wheeler that was blocking his lane.

Grass was one of four people in the Tahoe who were killed in the accident, while the other four were seriously hurt.

Grass' estate sued the fraternity as well as the commissioner of transportation and the contractors responsible for the construction site where the accident took place.

The trial court granted Delta's motion to dismiss the claim of common-law negligence, but the Connecticut Supreme Court reversed the decision in an opinion written by Justice Flemming Norcott Jr. and remanded the case for trial.

"Whether Phi Chapter's actions in assigning or approving Fenton to drive Grass to New Haven at the conclusion of the final event of Hell Week were reasonable under the circumstances, or whether such actions constituted a breach of its duty of care, presents a question of fact for the jury," he wrote.

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