Parents sue 28 former Penn State frat brothers as 2-year anniversary of son’s death nears

The parents of Timothy Piazza filed a wrongful death lawsuit Thursday against 28 former Beta Theta Pi fraternity brothers, along with the security firm that was supposed to ensure safety at social functions. They are are seeking more than $75,000.

Tom Kline announced the 102-page federal lawsuit on behalf of Jim and Evelyn Piazza the day before the two-year anniversary of their son’s fall down the Penn State fraternity’s steps during a bid acceptance night. The 19-year-old died Feb. 4, 2017.

Kline accused the former brothers of forcing Piazza to consume life-threatening amounts of alcohol before his “hair first” fall down the steps. He also said Piazza “endured horrible pain and suffering” for more than 11 hours before 911 was called.

“Despite knowing the serious nature of Timothy Piazza’s fall — and despite knowing that some fraternity members wanted Piazza to receive professional medical care — the fraternity defendants did not seek medical care for him until it was too late,” Kline wrote. “Upon realizing the grave consequences of their conduct, the fraternity defendants unsuccessfully sought to conceal evidence of their hazing.”

The fraternity’s executive board, pledge education committee, recruitment committee and social committee all planned or directed the hazing of pledges, including Piazza, according to the lawsuit. Kline said Craig Heimer purchased about $1,179 worth of alcohol between Jan. 25 and Feb. 2, 2017.

Tom Kline, attorney for Timothy Piazza’s family, talks to the media Aug. 11, 2017 at the Centre County Courthouse. Centre Daily Times, file

And much like the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office in the criminal case, Kline singled out former president Brendan Young and pledge master Daniel Casey’s alleged prior hazing conduct.

The lawsuit cites 2016 messages from Young and Casey that discuss an obstacle course, paddling and hazing.

In one exchange, Young said, “I know you know this. If anything goes wrong with the pledges this semester (then) both of us are f---ed.”

Casey responded, “I know, dude. I’m not tryna f--- us at all. We got bright futures.”

Also named in the lawsuit was St. Moritz, which was responsible for providing “social checkers” to ensure all PSU Interfraternity Council policies were enforced. But instead, Kline said employees spent two to three minutes at the fraternity’s house and conducted a “sham inspection” that allowed the former brothers to continue hazing Piazza.

“St. Moritz fostered an unsafe environment for students by failing to address known, obvious, unsafe and underage drinking behavior at Penn State fraternities and sororities,” Kline wrote.

The lawsuit outlines six counts of negligence, six counts of battery, one count of civil conspiracy and one count of intentional infliction of emotional distress.

“This lawsuit filing — and announcement of our sweeping out-of-court settlement with the university — marks two milestone developments in this long and difficult journey of Jim and Evelyn Piazza as they fight for the full measure of justice, and permanent Greek life reforms, in memory of their son following his preventable death,” Kline said in a press release. “With the assistance of recovered fraternity house interior surveillance video and text messages amongst the defendants, we intend to hold all those responsible for Tim’s death fully accountable. Only through the civil justice process can these objectives be accomplished.”

Jim and Evelyn Piazza, joined by attorney David Williams, walk toward the Centre County Courthouse Annex on July 31, 2018. Centre Daily Times, file

Kline also announced an undisclosed monetary agreement with Penn State. The agreement includes enhanced Greek accountability, alcohol control, ensuring Beta Theta Pi expulsion, barring “underground organizations and enhancing bystander engagement efforts.

According to a press release, the agreement “resolved their remaining outstanding issues.”

Lisa Powers, Penn State’s senior director of news and media relations, said the agreement “reflects our mutual commitment to promoting positive change.”

“This new agreement identifies possible future actions that Greek-life chapters can take that will be encouraged and supported by the university,” the press release said. “These measures provide an opportunity for Penn State to continue to lead the nation in Greek-life reforms that identify promising approaches to building and sustaining a strong community of purpose.”

Penn State also recently pledged up to $5 million toward the creation of a national, multidisciplinary research center to study Greek life.

The now-shuttered Beta Theta Pi fraternity is not listed in the lawsuit. The Piazza family announced they reached an undisclosed monetary settlement with the fraternity’s national chapter in September.

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Bret Pallotto primarily reports on courts and crime for the Centre Daily Times. He grew up in Lewistown and graduated from Lock Haven University.