MORGANTOWN – A New York family is suing West Virginia University after they claim a fraternity is responsible for their son's death due to hazing.
Kappa Sigma Fraternity, Kappa Sigma Fraternity Gamma-Phi Chapter, Kappa Sigma House Asociation, Jordan Hankins, Richard Schwartz, Thomas Richey, Linda Richey and 20 unknown, unnamed individuals were also named as defendants in the suit, which was filed Oct. 8 in Monongalia Circuit Court.
Hankins, a member of Kappa Sigma, was the Grand Master of Ceremonies of Gamma Phi and Schwartz, a member of Kappa Sigma, was the Grand Treasurer of Gamma Phi, according to the suit. Thomas Richey and Linda Richey own the property leased to fraternity members.
On Nov. 14, Nolan Michael Burch died as a result of fraternity hazing, according to a complaint.
At the time of his death, Nolan Burch was a student at WVU pledging to join the Kappa Sigma fraternity through its local chapter, Gamma Phi.
Theron J. Burch and Kimberly Burch claim in the course of pledging, Nolan Burch was required to attend a "Big/Little" ceremony held by Gamma Phi on Nov. 12, where members of Gamma Phi negligently, carelessly and recklessly endangered Nolan Burch's health and safety by pressuring him to drink excessive amounts of alcohol in order to be accepted for admission into Kappa Sigma.
As a result, Nolan Burch suffered central nervous system depression and cardiopulmonary failure and died, according to the suit.
The Burches claim Gamma Phi had a reputation for promoting dangerous activities in connection with its events, including hazing and both underage and excessive drinking.
Notwithstanding the well-documented risks of such careless and reckless conduct, Gamma Phi was allowed to carry on with its dangerous activities, according to the suit.
The Burches claim WVU regulated the fraternity's operations as a recognized student organization at the university.
On Nov. 12, Nolan Burch was found unresponsive inside the fraternity house and, when he was taken to the hospital, his blood-alcohol level was 0.493, six times higher than the legal limit for driving in West Virginia.
Hankins and Schwartz face misdemeanor charges in the death. Schwartz was arraigned in magistrate court in February and was released on a $10,000 bond.
Burch’s death occurred two days after the Kappa Sigma fraternity had its charter revoked by the national office.
The Burches are seeking compensatory and punitive damages with pre- and post-judgment interest. They are being represented by William C. Brewer and J. Tyler Slavey of Brewer & Giggenbach PLLC; and Terrence M. Connors, Lawlor F. Quinlan III; and Paul A. Woodard of Connors & Vilardo LLP.
Monongalia Circuit Court case number: 15-C-638