Family of frat member who fell to death receives $3 million-plus settlement

By Jon Campisi | Dec 6, 2012

A $3 million-plus settlement has been reached in a wrongful death case initiated by the

father of a 20-year-old college student who fell to his death during a New Year’s Eve fraternity party on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania two years ago.

High-power Philadelphia personal injury attorney Robert J. Mongeluzzi, of the firm Saltz, Mongeluzzi, Barrett & Bendesky, announced on Dec. 3 the settlement in the case of Crozier v. University of Pennsylvania et al.

Court records show that Yardley, Pa. resident David Crozier filed a wrongful death and survival action at the Philadelphia Common Pleas Court in late May 2011 on behalf of his late son, Matthew Crozier, who died on Jan. 1, 2011, after he fell over a stairway railing following a Phi Kappa Sigma fraternity party at the University of Pennsylvania.

Matthew’s father asserted that the combined negligence of the university and the Suds Beer Store in Trevose, Bucks County, contributed to his son’s untimely death.

The defendants in the case included the university, the beer distributor, Phi Kappa Sigma International Fraternity Inc. and the fraternity’s local Alpha Chapter, among others.

Mongeluzzi announced this week that Phi Kappa Sigma collectively agreed to pay the plaintiffs $3 million in damages while the beer store agreed to pay out $375,000 as part of the settlement agreement.

The plaintiff’s attorney said there was no doubt after extensive pre-trial discovery that the negligence of the defendants contributed to Matthew Crozier’s fall and subsequent death.

“If the case had gone to trial, a jury would have been repulsed by the multitude of failures by Phi Kappa Sigma and the other defendants. Combined their negligence clearly led to the death of an extraordinary young man with the brightest of futures,” Mongeluzzi said in a statement. “The fraternity, besides permitting excessive alcohol consumption by minors on its property, was repeatedly directed by the University to upgrade its inadequate railing to conform with building codes, and it did nothing.”

According to the plaintiff’s firm, the fraternity was supposed to have been alcohol-free under a “no-booze” policy adopted back in 2000.

Mongeluzzi called the frat’s policy “a sham,” going on to dub the fraternity “Animal House,” in reference to the 1970s film, and saying it was only a matter of time before the fraternity’s “disregard for its own rules would prove deadly.”

During discovery, Mongeluzzi and his colleagues obtained testimony from experts that documented how the fraternity, which was founded on the University of Pennsylvania’s campus in 1850 and became known as “the Skulls,” knowingly ignored, for at least five years prior to the accident, the university’s demands to upgrade the deficient railing that was the subject of Matthew Crozier’s fall.

“If only a simply, inexpensive fix had been made to have a height-compliant railing, Matt would likely be alive today,” Ara Avrigian, Mongeluzzi’s co-counsel on the case, said in his own statement. “There will never be true closure for Matt’s parents, but they hope this case sends a message to those responsible for the safety and welfare of their children on college campuses across the country.”

Matthew Crozier was a star basketball player at LaSalle College High School and a standout on the team at John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio, where he was a junior at the time of his death, Mongeluzzi’s firm reported.

Aside from the reported settlement between the fraternity and the beer distributor, Crozier’s family also reached a confidential settlement with the University of Pennsylvania.

David Crozier’s complaint alleged his son had been walking up the steps inside the fraternity house in an attempt to reach the second floor when he tumbled over the stairwell railing, landed on his head on the floor below, and sustained severe brain trauma.

The accident occurred at about 3 in the morning on Jan. 1.

Following the incident, Crozier was taken to the Neuro Trauma Surgical Intensive Care Unit of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, where he succumbed to his injuries four days later.

The lawsuit had claimed that the railing inside the frat house was defectively low, something that the plaintiff alleged contributed to his son’s death.

The complaint had gone on to state that dangerously low railings led to another student’s death at a different University of Pennsylvania frat house in the spring of 1999, and yet another student’s injury in September 2004 at a third campus frat house.

Lawyers for the defendants in the Crozier case maintained that it wasn’t the railing, but rather Crozier’s own irresponsible actions of drinking alcohol that led to his death.

The lawsuit had faulted Suds, the Bucks County-based beer distributor, for selling to underage patrons.

Suds had policies and practices in place to not require and/or request photo identification from those who appeared not to be of drinking age, the suit alleged.

Defense counsel in the case included Joseph D. Deal, of the firm Cooper Levenson April Niedelman & Wagenheim of Cherry Hill, N.J.; Jeremy D. Mishkin, of Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads in Philadelphia; and New Jersey lawyer William Dirk Pastorick of Nelson Levine de Luca & Hamilton.

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