The family of a University of Maryland fraternity pledge who died of an alcohol overdose has sued the national fraternity and two of its members, claiming they prodded underage students to drink excessive quantities of malt liquor and bourbon in an illegal hazing ritual.
The suit also alleges that after freshman Daniel Reardon passed out, the two Phi Sigma Kappa brothers responsible for watching him let several hours pass -- waiting until the 19-year-old District man turned blue -- before calling for medical assistance.
"This passage of time extinguished any chance Dan had for surviving," says the lawsuit filed Friday in Prince George's County Circuit Court.
The suit, which seeks $15 million in damages, alleges unlawful hazing, breach of fiduciary duty, breach of duty to aid or rescue, breach of contract and negligence.
Reardon, a 2000 graduate of Woodrow Wilson High School, died in February after a week in the hospital on life support. His death prompted a debate about excessive drinking and hazing in the College Park campus's thriving Greek system.
Although fraternity brothers insisted at the time that Reardon was not hazed or pressured to drink, the family's attorney said evidence outlined in the suit will prove otherwise. Reardon's family is suing "to make sure that no other young person will die so senselessly from traditions that must end," said the attorney, Douglas E. Fierberg.
According to the suit, Reardon and other pledges were called to the Phi Sigma Kappa house on the night of Feb. 7 and ordered by pledge instructor Brian John McLaughlin to drink a 40-ounce can of malt liquor.
Then, in what the instructor described as a show of "group unity," they were told to drink a half-gallon of Jim Beam whiskey as they sat in a circle sharing personal stories, the suit says.
According to the suit, the last person to drink from the bottle was supposed to finish it, and the pledges were encouraged, therefore, to be "good brothers" and take big gulps.
According to the suit, Reardon and most other pledges were intoxicated and vomiting by the time they finished the first half-gallon, but McLaughlin opened a second. When Reardon took his turn, he was cheered for drinking more than his share, and within minutes his eyes rolled back in his head and he lost consciousness, the suit says.
The suit alleges that McLaughlin and Phi Sigma Kappa chapter President Gary M. Kaufman took charge of watching Reardon and would not allow others to see him. When he reached the hospital, his blood-alcohol level was recorded at 0.579 percent, more than seven times the legal limit to drive a car.
Tom Recker, executive vice president of the Grand Chapter of Phi Sigma Kappa, based in Indianapolis, declined to comment on the suit. "We've not received anything [about the suit] at this point, so there's not anything to discuss."
McLaughlin's parents said yesterday that they had not heard of the suit and directed inquiries to their son's attorney, William Brennan. Brennan declined to comment while the suit is pending.
Kaufman's parents also declined to comment.
Prince George's County investigators considered for several months whether to bring criminal charges, including manslaughter or hazing charges, against fraternity members. Ultimately, they decided not to file charges.
University officials confirmed yesterday that they took disciplinary action against one student in connection with Reardon's death but declined to give specifics, citing federal confidentiality rules.
The national organization of Phi Sigma Kappa closed the College Park chapter within two weeks of Reardon's hospitalization because of unspecified violations of its risk-management policy, including provisions involving alcohol.
Campus officials said they will soon announce when, if ever, the organization will be allowed to reopen a U-Md. chapter.