Yale sued after tailgate death

Sixteen months after a fatal crash at the 2011 Yale-Harvard game left a Massachusetts woman dead, the victim’s estate has filed a negligence suit against the University, the city of New Haven, Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity, Inc. and others involved in the crash.

Nancy Barry, a 30-year-old woman from Salem, Mass., died after being struck by a U-Haul truck during the tailgate before the Yale-Harvard football game on Nov. 19, 2011. Brendan Ross ’13 was driving the rented U-Haul into the tailgate area assigned to the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity,when the vehicle accelerated and swerved into the Yale Bowl’s D-Lot on Central Avenue at around 9:39 a.m., killing Barry and injuring Sarah Short SOM ’13 and Harvard employee Elizabeth Dernbach.

Paul T. Edwards, an attorney representing Barry’s estate, filed a lawsuit with the New Haven Superior Court on Friday seeking charges against many parties allegedly involved in the crash for failing to take all appropriate safety measures.

“[The crash] was the result of an accumulation of incredibly bad decisions by several parties,” Edwards said in a press release about the suit.

The lawsuit claims that Yale University should have known that the use of box trucks posed a risk to the crowd gathered in the parking lot. According to Edwards, the University failed to demarcate driving areas within the parking lot to prevent collisions with pedestrians.

“Yale University permitted and encouraged organizations to rent large box trucks to bring to a designated section of the Yale Bowl parking lot to host their alcohol-fueled tailgate parties,” Edwards said in the press release.

In a Sunday email to the News, University spokesman Tom Conroy expressed sympathy for the family and friends of the victim but dismissed the claims of the lawsuit.

“The tragic vehicular accident that took the life of Nancy Barry saddened the Yale community, and we feel the deepest sympathy for her family and loved ones who suffered such a terrible loss,” Conroy said in the email. “We do not believe, however, that Yale or those working on behalf of the University were a cause of the accident.”

The lawsuit also seeks charges against the City of New Haven for failing to provide a sufficient number of New Haven Police Department officers tasked with traffic and crowd control. The response of the city to the suit  was rapid and brief.

“The City is aware of this lawsuit and will respond accordingly at the appropriate time,” said City Corporation Counsel Victor Bolden in a statement released Friday. “That said, the claims against the City warrant dismissal.”

The list of defendants also includes Ross, the U-Haul Company of Connecticut, the student who rented the vehicle and Contemporary Services Corporation, the company Yale hired to provide security and crowd management services at the tailgate area.

Ross, who passed a field sobriety test at the scene of the accident, faced charges of negligent homicide with a motor vehicle and reckless driving following the crash, but in February, he was granted accelerated rehabilitation, which offers first-time offenders a path to a clean record upon successful completion of probation. Under the plea deal, his charges were revised to reckless driving and reckless endangerment. Ross will have to complete a total of 400 hours of community service.

In addition to the lawsuit filed by Edwards, Ross, SigEp and U-Haul still face another civil lawsuit from Short. The woman is seeking at least $50,000 in damages for the “severe and painful injuries” she suffered as a result of the crash.

In response to the accident, Yale tightened its tailgating regulations, banning beer kegs and U-Hauls and containing tailgates to a “student tailgate village” zone that would be set up before 8:30 a.m. and close at the start of football games.

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