The parents of a student who was struck and killed by a truck after walking home from an off-campus sorority party on Oct. 18, 2013, have filed a lawsuit against the University of Delaware, claiming the school is responsible for his death.
Ethan P. Connolly crossed Del. 896 near GBC Drive at approximately 12:30 a.m. with another student and they were both hit by a truck. The other student suffered minor injuries while Connolly died at the scene. Toxicology reports showed that Connolly had alcohol in his system when he walked home from the party that night. The lawsuit alleges the university and sorority didn’t do their part in preventing underage drinking.
“Had (the defendants) executed their duty to make sure Ethan traveled back to campus on the bus, he would not have perished, drunk or not,” the lawsuit states.
Connolly attended a “Crush Party” sponsored by the university’s chapter of the Alpha Epsilon Phi national sorority, which is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit. The event was held at the Executive Banquet and Conference Center and was limited to invitees and sorority members or those who received tickets from a fraternity.
The lawsuit also states that building owner and catering company failed to prevent underage drinking at the party. The caterer and building owner, however, argued that they trained employees to check identification and take additional measures to make sure minors weren’t served alcohol. They also said Delaware doesn’t have any laws making someone who serves alcohol responsible for the consumer’s actions.
“There is no proof that anybody served him alcohol at this party,” said Colin Shalk, attorney for the caterer. “All we did was serve food and it just got caught up in the maelstrom.”
In the lawsuit, the Connollys also claim that sorority was responsible for making sure their son returned to the campus safely, but failed to do that.
Attorneys have worked on the lawsuit for nearly three years and have gotten depositions from about 20 people so far. The case has survived a previous motion to dismiss and is scheduled to go to trial next year.
The university argues that the school isn’t responsible for students’ actions at off-campus parties. When Connolly attended the university, he received two citations for underage on-campus drinking infractions and completed alcohol education.
“The University spotted Mr. Connolly’s problem with alcohol and took reasonable steps to get him to confront his irresponsible – and extremely dangerous – behavior,” reads the university’s brief arguing for judgment in its favor. “However, it warned everyone that it could not follow each of its 18,000 undergraduates to their off-campus drinking events.”
The lawsuit asks a jury to award compensatory and punitive damages to Connolly’s estate.