Md. fraternity sued for hazing death

Family members of Daniel Reardon, the University of Maryland freshman who died of alcohol poisoning last February, have filed a lawsuit against the Phi Sigma Kappa National Fraternity and several of the former Phi Sigma Kappa brothers at Maryland. The suit alleges that Reardon was coerced into consuming large amounts of alcohol as part of a pledge ritual.

Emergency medical personnel who were called to the Phi Sigma Kappa house on Feb. 8 found Reardon unconscious. He was hospitalized, placed on life support, and died one week later.

The Phi Sigma Kappa National Organization closed the University of Maryland chapter within two weeks of Reardon's hospitalization, on the grounds that the fraternity violated their risk management policy. The chapter remains closed at this time.

Although University of Maryland officials disciplined one student involved with Reardon's death, this lawsuit is the first legal action taken as a result of the incident. The suit seeks $15 million in damages and alleges that Reardon's death was a result of hazing.

The suit also argues that the two fraternity members in charge of watching Reardon after he passed out waited too long to call for medical assistance.

Douglas Fierberg -- the lawyer representing the Reardon family -- said Reardon's death was a result of hazing.

"The facts establish that the young man was hazed," Fierberg said.

Fierberg also alleges that Phi Sigma Kappa brothers did nothing to help Reardon after he became unconscious.

Fierburg said it is possible that the case could be settled out of court and might not involve awarding damages.

Maryland no longer recognizes the local Phi Sigma Kappa chapter, University of Maryland spokesman George Cathcart said. The Phi Sigma Kappa National Fraternity revoked the chapter's charter last February.

Cathcart also said the University of Maryland has appointed an alcohol task force that is evaluating "all alcohol activities, and the role alcohol plays on campus."

"We have a very strict code of conduct which forbids hazing," Cathcart said, adding that hazing is as "any kind of coercive activity."

University Inter-Fraternity Council President Phil Trout said the IFC has measures in place to prevent tragedies like the one that occurred at the University of Maryland.

"We have a host of standards of conduct to prevent this," Trout said. "I hope that an event like that would not happen" here.

The death of Reardon "caused all Phi Sigma Kappa chapters to take their risk management more seriously," said Balaji Venkataraman, president of Phi Sigma Kappa at University.

Aaron Laushway, assistant dean of students and director of fraternity and sorority life, said the last death of a pledge at the University occurred in the early 1990s.

It is not clear whether or not the death was related to fraternity activities, and no alcohol was involved in the incident, Laushway said.

(Associate Editor Martin Olivier contributed to this report.)

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