Recruitment had just concluded at a large, southeastern university. The Chi Alpha Chapter of Sigma Chi was pleased with the new pledge class of 40 young men. Over the summer the University had implemented new rules regarding Bid Day and fraternity parties—any Bid Day celebration was now required to be alcohol free.
The chapter hosted a brief celebration for the new pledges at the chapter house from 6-7pm without issue. At that point all brothers and pledges were encouraged to go to an offcampus house rented by three Sigma Chis. The chapter leadership maintained that this was simply three brothers hosting a party and unrelated to Bid Day, and therefore, the “dry” Bid Day rules did not apply.
There were several kegs of beer at the off-campus house and no one was checking IDs. As the event unfolded, brothers and pledges began playing drinking games. Shortly before midnight, one pledge, Tom Warner, disappeared. Brothers looked for him briefly until someone suggested that he had just decided to return to the dorms. Around 6am the next morning, school security found Warner unconscious below a campus pedestrian bridge. He was rushed to the hospital where doctors diagnosed him with severe head trauma. Due to his prolonged recovery, Warner was forced to withdraw from school for two semesters.
Warner’s parents filed a lawsuit naming the Chi Alpha Chapter, the Chi Alpha House Corporation, the Consul, the Magister, and the Recruitment Chairman. The complaint alleged that the chapter knowingly violated school and fraternity alcohol policies; that the officers created an unsafe environment for the pledges, who were in their care; and that secret Bid Night hazing activities led to Warner’s head injuries. The lawsuit demanded $900,000 in medical expenses, future medical expenses, and pain and suffering. The parents offered $10,000 to any brother who would come forward with information about the hazing.