Yale Fraternity Settles Lawsuits Over Fatal Tailgate Crash

Yale University’s Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity and more than 80 of its former members have settled lawsuits with victims of a collision at the 2011 Harvard-Yale football Game, which left one woman dead and two others injured.

Though the exact terms of the settlements—which were resolved outside the court— were confidential, none of the defendants admitted any liability, according to Ralph F. Sbrogna, an attorney for the family of victim Nancy Barry.

Game 132
Harvard won the 2015 Game against Yale, played in the Yale Bowl.

At the November 2011 tailgate in New Haven, Brendan Ross, then-Yale junior and member of Yale’s Sigma Phi Epsilon chapter, lost control of a U-Haul truck while transporting alcohol to the fraternity’s tailgating area, accelerating into a crowd of people.

The collision killed Barry, a 30-year-old resident of Salem, Mass., and injured two others—Harvard employee Elizabeth Dernbach and Yale School of Management student Sarah Short.

In 2012, Short’s estate filed a lawsuit against Ross and the fraternity; the national organization sought to distance itself from the accident. The complaint also listed U-Haul and Yale as defendants, but the claims were later withdrawn.

In late 2013, Short’s and Barry’s estates filed separate lawsuits against people who were members of Yale’s fraternity at the time of the incident.

The final defendants of the lawsuits were the national chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon, the local Yale chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon, and the 80 to 85 individual fraternity members of the local chapter who were listed as individual defendants, according to Sbrogna.

The fraternity and its members originally were scheduled to go to court in Waterbury, Conn. this week, but instead it was resolved outside of the court.

Sbrogna said that after four years, the victims’ families were glad to gain some closure on the case.

“They did gain closure as a result of the settlements,” Sbrogna said. “They lost a very vibrant, remarkable young woman, and whatever they’re going to gain from this settlement is not going to help bring her back.”

The local and national chapters of Sigma Phi Epsilon did not respond to request for comment.

Following the incident, Yale administrators revised tailgating guidelines, prohibiting oversized vehicles in the student section of the tailgate, banning kegs, and ending tailgates at kick-off. The 2016 Game will be played at Harvard, which has won the past nine matches.

—Staff writer Menaka V. Narayanan can be reached at menakanarayanan@college.harvard.edu. Follow her on Twitter @mnarayanan97.


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