NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A jury’s decision that the family of a Louisiana State University fraternity member is entitled to $6.1 million for his alcohol-related hazing-related death in 2017 sends a powerful message, the family’s attorney said Monday.
Max Gruver, from the Atlanta suburb of Roswell, Georgia, had been at LSU for just a month when he died of alcohol poisoning and aspiration after a hazing ritual at the Phi Delta Theta fraternity house in 2017.
One of the family’s attorneys, Don Cazayoux, said last week’s verdict in Baton Rouge bolsters the family’s campaign against hazing.
“The first message is, don’t do it because you could hurt someone, you could kill someone,” Cazayoux said in a telephone interview. The legal exposure, he said, adds to the points parents need to keep in mind when warning their college students about the dangers of hazing.
The verdict was somewhat symbolic: Gruver’s parents had already reached confidential settlements with the other defendants in the case, including LSU, the Phi Delta Theta fraternity, and at least 10 other fraternity members.
The sole defendant in last week’s trial, Ryan Isto, was found to be 2% at fault in Gruver’s death, making him liable for $122,000 in damages.
In 2019, Matthew Naquin, of Fair Oaks Ranch, Texas, was convicted of negligent homicide and sentenced to five years in prison in connection with the Gruver case, but a judge suspended him for all but two and a half years. Isto and another fraternity member, Sean Paul Gott, pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge in connection with the criminal case and were sentenced to 30 days in jail. Gott, who had agreed to a settlement in the civil case, was also found by the jury to be 2% guilty of Gruver’s death.
Naquin, one of the settled defendants in the civil case brought by Gruver’s parents, was found 80% guilty by last week’s jury in the death.
The university and Phi Delta Theta fraternity also reached agreements. Phi Delta Theta was banned from the LSU campus until at least 2033 as a result of the events leading up to Gruver’s death.
Witnesses have said Naquin ordered Gruver to drink a bottle of 190-proof liquor in September 2017. Gruver died the next morning. His blood alcohol level was 0.495%, more than six times the level considered proof of intoxication in Louisiana drunk driving cases.
Gruver’s parents, Rae Ann and Stephen Gruver, said in a Baton Rouge courthouse last week that this sends a message to «would-be rookies» to consider their actions, The Advocate reported.
“Think about the dangers of hazing, think about how you can harm people and how you will be held accountable,” Stephen Gruver said.