LAWRENCE — An attorney representing the father of a University of Kansas student who died last year of alcohol poisoning says Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity still hasn't changed its approach to underage drinking.
Attorney Stephen Gorny is representing Jay Wren in a wrongful death lawsuit against the fraternity, its parent organization, the owner of the fraternity house and 10 members. Wren's son, Jason, was a 19-year-old freshman in March 2009 when he was found dead at the Sigma Alpha Epsilon house after a night of heavy drinking.
In a recent filing in the lawsuit, Gorny pointed to an April 2010 alcohol violation at the fraternity house as evidence that "future possible harm to other victims is likely."
But Michael Seck, representing the fraternity, said things that happened after Wren's death can't be used as evidence to seek punitive damages in the suit.
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The chapter has expelled nearly two dozen active members of the house after the April violation, in which the fraternity was found to have purchased alcohol and provided it to pledges.
The death of Jason Wren put the spotlight on underage drinking at the university. Less than two months after his death, an 18-year-old freshman, Dalton Hawkins, died after falling off the roof of a scholarship hall on campus. Authorities said that he had been drinking before his fall.
In Wren's lawsuit, the family alleges that fraternity members failed to seek medical attention for their son despite his intoxication and a head injury.
On the night he died, Wren had used a fake ID to drink alcohol at a restaurant, then continued drinking beer and liquor at the fraternity house, the lawsuit alleges.
Wren was living at the fraternity house because he was banned from living at a university residence hall after he violated the school's alcohol policy.
He had a 0.362 blood alcohol content when he died, according to the autopsy.
Gorny's motion to seek punitive damages says the national Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity required the local chapter to pay an increased risk-management premium after Wren's death. The national organization also encouraged the local chapter to implement at least a one-semester ban on alcohol in the chapter house, Gorny wrote.
But Seck said state law does not allow punitive damages in a wrongful-death suit.
"There was no reason to prohibit alcohol consumption in the house prior to the incident, as there was no indication that alcohol consumption was a problem at the house," Seck wrote.
A status conference on Wren's lawsuit was scheduled for Wednesday. The trial date is April 25.
Among issues to be considered was a request by Gorny to have more time to depose expert witnesses and conduct other depositions. He said extreme circumstances have caused the process to take longer than anticipated.
"Following Jason Wren's death, Jason's younger sister committed suicide," Gorny wrote. "Tragically, months later, Jason's mother Mary also took her own life."
Gorny has filed a motion to remove Jason's mother as a plaintiff and make Jay Wren the only one.