The end of the spring semester drew to a close, and the Sigma Chi Chapter members’ finals would begin in the week ahead. It was a Saturday afternoon and some of the brothers sought a break from their studies. A few of the pledges also hung out at the chapter house that day. One of the pledges was 19 year-old Martin Kelly.
Some of the brothers, whose finals were complete, had already packed up their belongings and returned home for the summer, leaving a number of the rooms vacant. On this afternoon, the remaining brothers thought it would be fun to set up mattresses from these vacant rooms outside one of the second story windows of the house and jump out the window onto the mattresses below. They asked the pledges to gather the mattresses and stack them in the yard. Once done, a brother told the pledges that they should jump onto the mattresses first; some of the brothers said the pledges’ induction into Sigma Chi Fraternity may depend upon it. However, the brothers later said that this last remark was a joke that the pledges misunderstood as an order. “We were all just having fun. We thought they were, too,” remarked the Magister later in a deposition.
One of the pledges jumped and landed without injury. Encouraged by this, Martin jumped next. He landed on the mattresses, but the impact ruptured one of his vertebrae, causing paralysis in his pelvis and legs. Neither the Fraternity nor the university was informed of this accident until that October.
After the accident, surgeons were able to fuse four of Martin’s vertebrae together. This allowed him to walk and a year later, he was back in school, attending a community college. However, Martin still lacked bladder control and continued to suffer from significant leg and back pain. Martin’s mother quit her job to care for him at home. The Kelly family’s bills soared to $200,000, including medical bills and the accumulated costs to retrofit the house, allowing easy access for Martin.
The Kelly family filed suit against Sigma Chi International Fraternity, the university, and the local chapter, seeking damages for medical bills, lost earning capacity, pain and suffering, and punitive damages.