Settlement to victim's family spurs alcohol policy evaluation

By Melissa Prentice

Arizona Daily Wildcat

The UA recently reached a settlement taking financial responsibility for a drunk-driving death after underage drinking at a fraternity party.

And some administrators say this settlement may change the university's policies involving Greek houses on campus.

On Aug. 28, 1988, Reuben Hernandez was killed by an underage student who was driving home after drinking at a bid-night party at Delta Tau Delta fraternity. The Arizona Board of Regents was named, on behalf of the University of Arizona, as a defendant in a civil case.

Hernandez's three adult children sued approximately 95 separate parties including the board, the local and national DTD chapters and members of the fraternity, said Bill Risner, the Hernandez family's attorney. The family has received a total of $2.7 million in settlements.

The university agreed to pay $150,000 in a settlement reached Oct. 31, the day before the case was scheduled to go to trial, said Chuck Pyle at the state attorney general's office. The office defended the UA in the case.

Dan Maxwell, the interim director of the Department of Student Programs, said this is the first time he knows of that the university reached a settlement claiming responsibility for alcohol use at fraternities.

Pyle said the defense filed for a summary judgement regarding whether the university had a "duty to regulate drinking of fraternity members" and the judge ruled the university did have a duty. Pyle said the university decided to "reach a reasonable settlement" rather than allow the case to continue indefinitely in the trial and appeals courts.

The case will probably not result in additional lawsuits claiming the university's responsibility for alcohol at fraternity parties, since many other precedental cases in the area have ruled that universities do not have a duty to regulate alcohol at Greek houses, Pyle said.

"Almost all cases in this area have decided that the university has no duty (to regulate alcohol at fraternity events)," he said.

Maxwell said the settlement will require the university to "evaluate our policies and procedures" regarding Greek houses. This evaluation, which will begin in January, will involve student Greek Life leaders, chapter advisors, alumni, faculty and staff, Maxwell said.

Jennifer Jones, Greek Life coordinator, said she is unsure if the settlement will result in stricter enforcement of alcohol violations, but said she thinks "we will defi

nitely need to reevaluate some of our current policies and procedures."

One indication of already stricter enforcement of alcohol violations is the announcement Nov. 9 by the Dean of Students Office that Delta Chi fraternity would lose its university recognition for five years because of several "safety violations" including underage drinking.

Other campus clubs and organizations have also become more careful about not contributing to alcohol use at club functions.

Will Kuhn, the president-elect of the Phi Alpha Delta pre-law fraternity, said the club has made stricter rules in the past few years that forbids the club to purchase alcohol for parties.

The plaintiffs had also sought punitive damages against the UA Delta Tau Delta chapter for serving alcohol to underage members, as well as against the local DTD housing corporation for knowing about the underage drinking and not stopping it. Fraternity members were also sued for contributing to an "alcohol fund" which was used to buy alcohol for the party, Risner said.

All these defendants had also settled out of court and contributed to the $2.7 million total settlement, he said.

However, a judge had dismissed claims against the national DTD organization and the pledges of the fraternity. Risner said he has filed appeals against both decisions and expects rulings in about a year.

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