Phi Delta Theta Fraternity, LSU Sued by Parents After Son’s Death

By | August 20, 2018

The parents of a Louisiana State University freshman who died of alcohol intoxication last year after an alleged fraternity hazing filed a federal lawsuit against the university board, the fraternity and several of the fraternity’s members.

Stephen and Rae Ann Gruver’s lawsuit on behalf of their son, Maxwell Gruver, of Roswell, Georgia, was filed in U.S. District Court in Baton Rouge. Defendants include Phi Delta Theta fraternity and four students already facing criminal charges in the 18-year-old Gruver’s death last September.

The lawsuit, which seeks $25 million, alleges that LSU responds with “deliberate indifference” to allegations of hazing at fraternities. It also says Phi Delta has “a long history of dangerous misconduct at universities across the country.”

Thursday’s suit recounts details of events leading up to Gruver’s death, many of which have also been made public in a police report. It said Gruver was singled out during a hazing ritual on the night of Sept. 13 — likely targeted for arriving late to other activities or for complaining about an earlier hazing incident. The suit says he was made to drink more than other pledges. It says he took at least 10 to 12 “pulls” from a bottle of 190-proof liquor.

“By 11:30 p.m., Max was incapacitated and in visible need of emergency medical or other responsible care. Yet, fraternity members left Max, unconscious, on a couch,” the lawsuit says. Gruver was still unconscious the next morning but, rather than seek emergency assistance, the suit says, pledges were told to take Gruver to the hospital “and to lie and tell hospital staff they had found Max in his dorm room.”

Gruver died at the hospital on Sept. 14. The coroner in Baton Rouge said he died of acute alcohol intoxication and from inhaling vomit and other fluids into his lungs. His blood-alcohol level was 0.495 percent, the coroner said. The legal blood-alcohol limit for driving in Louisiana is 0.08 percent.

Gruver’s death led the Louisiana Legislature this year to toughen anti-hazing laws. His parents testified at a legislative committee. LSU announced in March that it rescinded the fraternity’s registration at the college, barring it from sponsoring events or soliciting new members until the end of 2032. Shortly after Gruver’s death, Phi Delta Theta said it was suspending operations at LSU.

Four people, all defendants in the suit, have pleaded not guilty to criminal charges in connection with Gruver’s death. Other fraternity members, including 10 identified only as John Doe, also are defendants.

LSU spokesman Ernie Ballard said in an email that the university had not yet been served with the lawsuit and declined immediate comment. LSU President F. King Alexander said last year the university is “taking necessary steps to change the culture on campus related to hazing.”

Phi Delta Theta official Sean Wagner declined comment on specifics of the lawsuit but noted a statement on the fraternity’s website saying a thorough review of the fraternity’s health and safety polices was initiated immediately after the incident and has led to new policies and programs.

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