A wrongful death lawsuit filed against the fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon last Friday has named twenty former members of the fraternity as well as the brotherhood itself. The suit is seeking damages amounting to $25 million.
George Desdunes, a pledge member of SAE, was found on an SAE couch on February 25 and died soon after at Cayuga Medical Center. The lawsuit argues that Desdunes was given an extremely large amount of alcohol as part of an SAE pledging event. After being given so much that it was clear he was in need of medical treatment, Desdunes was instead tied up and left on the couch until he became severely ill. The lawsuit specifically claims that Desdunes was “left to die” on the couch.
The lawsuit was filed by Marie Lourdes Andre, Desdunes’ mother.
“With the death of my son, I find some comfort in knowing that this lawsuit may bring about changes in fraternities that will prevent other families from suffering as I have,” said Andre in an Associated Press interview.
A number of former members, including the SAE former president and vice president, were named as defendants in the $25 million lawsuit. Three others that were named have already been charged with misdemeanors in Desdunes’ death as well.
The event in question involved Desdunes and others participating in a mock kidnapping. The captives of the event were tied at the hands and feet, and quizzed about trivia regarding their fraternity. In the event of a wrong answer, they were given drinks of alcohol or flavored syrup as punishment.
Reports on Desdunes’ blood alcohol content vary. According to court documents, it was recorded at .35, whereas Desdunes’ family attorney insists that it was .409 at the time of his death. Either way, it is significantly above the legal intoxication limit of .08.
Cornell University, where the incident took place, suspended recognition of SAE in response to the incident, and the SAE national organization suspended all members from Cornell until such time as they graduate.