Medical Malpractice and Personal Injury Law Blog

Preventable Death at Penn State Fraternity Leads to Criminal Investigation

Posted by Charles Gilman | Feb 13, 2017 | 0 Comments

Earlier this month, a Penn State sophomore was killed when he fell down a flight of basement stairs at his fraternity. A release of the search warrant associated with the event now shows that 12 hours elapsed between the time of the injury and the time when police were called to the scene at 10:49 am, which may be grounds for a civil suit.

Timothy Piazza, aged 19, reportedly fell down the stairs of Beta Theta Pi at 11 pm on February 2. Fraternity members carried the student, who was pledging the fraternity at the time, up to a room but did not call emergency services until late the next morning. At that time they told the police that Piazza had “a little bit of everything.” The case was ruled accidental, but criminal charges may be pressed against the fraternity “if there is evidence of reckless endangerment.”

Piazza was taken to a local hospital, then flown to Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center in Hershey, but was pronounced dead a few days later. He had sustained “multiple traumatic injuries from a fall,” according to the medical examiner.

Lt. Keith Robb says that the accident was “definitely” preventable and that if the fraternity members had called sooner, “his chances for survival would have been a lot greater.” Robb also stressed that anyone calling on behalf of another who has a medical emergency will be granted immunity for minor infractions, such as underage drinking.

Police are still investigating whether or not Piazza ever woke up after the fall and reviewing surveillance video that may answer some questions about the incident. Piazza's father spoke candidly at the vigil held for the former student the night after he died, saying “Let's be honest, we all know this didn't have to happen." He added, “Tim was an amazing son, an amazing person and someone who we are going to miss dearly.”

Now under consideration is whether or not a civil case can be brought against the fraternity for reckless endangerment. In 1999, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the Good Samaritan law, which protects citizens from liability if they inadvertently injure someone while trying to provide help to someone who is hurt or in danger, can be applied to premises liability. This means that if you try to give aid to someone on your property, you will not be liable to further injuries that aid may cause them.

The fraternity has temporarily suspended its chapters operations while the investigation is ongoing, and Penn State has put a halt on fraternity and sorority parties involving alcohol amidst fallout from the death and additional allegations of hazing and sexual assault.

Cases involving alcohol and premises liability can be tricky, especially when other organizations such as fraternities and universities are involved. If you are considering a civil suit for wrongful death or injury in such a case, an experienced attorney can help you review your options. Call trial attorneys Charles Gilman and Briggs Bedigian today at (800) 529-6162 or contact them online to get started on your case.

About the Author

Charles Gilman

As managing partner and co-founder of Gilman & Bedigian, it is my mission to help our clients recover and get their lives back on track. I strongly believe that every person who is injured by a wrongful act deserves compensation, and I will do my utmost to bring recompense to those who need and deserve it.

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