June 17th, 2014 | University

U-Haul: no evidence of truck defect in tailgate accident

Over two and a half years after a U-Haul truck crash at the 2011 Harvard-Yale tailgate lead to the death of one woman and the injury of another, U-Haul has issued a press release stating that no evidence of a truck defect has been found in relation to the accident.

William Dow ’63, the lawyer who represented Brendan Ross ’13 in his criminal proceedings, alleged on Nov. 20, 2011 – one day after the Harvard-Yale football game where the crash took place – that a “vehicle malfunction” had caused the accident. After two inspections — one by a consultant retained by Dow and another by the City of New Haven’s police department — lawyers representing Sarah Short SOM ’13, who was injured, and the estate of Nancy Barry, who died, publicly stated that the truck was cleared of any malfunction.

According to U-Haul’s recent press release, such comments from Dow and Ross caused “knee-jerk and emotional reactions from the public and other affected parties.” The official statement claimed that Dow’s and Ross’s comments were “rash and unsupported,” but Dow said on Tuesday that he disagreed with this characterization.

“The statements made on behalf of Brendan Ross were not rash and unsupported. They were made in good faith and made on the information available at that time,” he said. “More importantly the criminal charges have been resolved to the satisfaction of [Nancy Barry’s family] and the state of Connecticut. Brendan Ross has no criminal convictions.”

But even prior to the June 9 press release, the plaintiffs — Short and the Barry estate — had withdrawn their charges against U-Haul, and the Barry estate had withdrawn its charges against the City of New Haven. Paul Edwards, the lawyer representing the Barry estate, said he could not comment on the decision to withdraw charges against U-Haul. However, he said in an email that he determined “it was very unlikely that we would be able to overcome the city’s municipal immunity defense,” so charges against the City of New Haven were withdrawn.

In addition, the individual fraternity members named as defendants filed a Complaint for Apportionment of Liability, in which they assert that if they are found to be legally responsible, they should only be held responsible for their proportionate share, which is determined only after the jury decides what other parties are legally responsible. The complaint names the University, Contemporary Services Corporation — the event’s crowd management company — and U-Haul as liable. Jeremy Platek, the attorney who is representing most of the SigEp defendants, could not be reached for comment.

“The defendants/apportionment plaintiffs each deny, individually and collectively, that they were in any way negligent or vicariously liable for the incident alleged in the plaintiff’s complaint or for the allegedly negligent conduct of Brendan Ross,” the complaint reads. “However, to the extent that such liability or responsibility has been claimed in this lawsuit, the defendants/apportionment plaintiffs assert that the plaintiff’s injuries were caused, in whole or in part, by the negligent conduct of U-Haul Co. of Connecticut, as alleged above.”

Two of the 86 Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity members that had been named in Short’s and Barry’s Jan. 2014 lawsuits were also removed as defendants after they proved they were not dues-paying members at the time of the incident.The remaining parties being sued by the plaintiffs include Ross, then-SigEp chapter president Patrick Dolan ’13, the remaining members of the fraternity at the time of the incident, SigEp National, the Yale chapter of SigEp, the University and Contemporary Services Corporation and the crowd management company at the event.

In March, each of the plaintiffs filed a motion to consolidate its two cases so that all matters could be resolved in one action instead of two. Although U-Haul filed a memorandum opposing this motion, the orders for consolidation were granted on June 9. To further streamline the process, the cases were transferred over May and June from the court of New Haven to the court of Waterbury to be handled as complex litigation.