Frat house owner files answer in MU bottle rocket suit

By Kyla Asbury | Nov 2, 2012

HUNTINGTON – Richmond Property Group, Ltd. filed its answer to the lawsuit involving the Alpha Tau Omega Fraternity and a man who was injured when another fraternity member attempted to shoot bottle rockets from his anus.

Richmond is the owner of the Alpha Tau Omega Fraternity house, which houses the Marshall University chapter of the fraternity, but, it claims no agent, employee or representative of Richmond was present at the time of the bottle rocket incident.

Louis Helmburg III, who plays for Marshall’s baseball team, originally filed his lawsuit on Jan. 23 against Travis Hughes and the fraternity. On June 4, an amended complaint adding Richmond to the list of defendants was filed.

On May 1, 2011, at about 1:30 a.m., the fraternity was having a house party that both Helmburg and Hughes were attending, according to Helmburg’s complaint.

Helmburg claims Hughes became intoxicated and attempted to shoot bottle rockets out of his anus on the ATO deck. When doing so, Hughes startled Helmburg, who then jumped back and fell off the deck and was injured when he became lodged between the deck and an air conditioning unit.

At the time of the incident, there was no railing on the deck and the lack of railing had existed for at least several months, if not years, according to the complaint.

Helmburg claims the deck was in the exclusive custody, maintenance and control of ATO and Richmond, and because of this, the defendants owed a duty to him to provide a safe deck with railing and a duty to supervise guests and fraternity brothers who were under age from consuming alcohol on the premises.

In its answer, Richmond denies Helmburg’s claims of negligence per se, common law negligence and ultra-hazardous activity or strict liability.

Helmburg was “guilty of negligence, which proximately caused or contributed to the happening of the accident, injuries and damages of which the plaintiff complains, if any, and the plaintiff is…totally or partially barred from recovery…by the doctrines of contributory and/or comparative negligence,” Richmond’s answer states.

The incident and damages complained of were caused by a party or entity other than Richmond over which it had no control or right of control, according to the answer.

“Alternatively, in the event that a dangerous condition was shown to exist, which is denied, then said condition was open and obvious and should have been avoided by the plaintiff,” the answer states.

Richmond is a landlord of a possession without information or knowledge of the events of the incident which forms the basis of Helmburg’s amended complaint, and the bottle rocket incident was not foreseeable by the company.

Helmburg was a “voluntary participant who encouraged, participated in and/or documented via cell phone video the attempt by Defendant Hughes to shoot a bottle rocket out of his anus,” the answer states.

Richmond Properties is being represented by Pennsylvania attorney Joseph W. Selep of Zimmer Kunz, PLLC.

Helmburg is seeking compensatory damages with pre- and post-judgment interest. He is being represented by Timothy P. Rosinsky.

The case has been assigned to Circuit Judge Paul T. Farrell.

Cabell Circuit Court case number: 12-C-57

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