Updated August 18 at 3:54 p.m.
A Superior Court judge in Waterbury has ordered the national Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity to proceed to trial as a defendant in a lawsuit stemming from the 2011 Harvard-Yale tailgate crash that left one woman dead.
The national organization had initially sought to distance itself from the crash, which took place in November 2011 when Brendan Ross ’13, a member of Yale’s chapter of SigEp, lost control of a U-Haul truck on his way to a fraternity-sanctioned tailgate. The truck plowed into a group of pedestrians before hitting another truck. A Massachusetts woman, Nancy Barry, was killed, and two others — including plaintiff Sarah Short SOM ’13 — were injured.
Short filed a lawsuit against Ross and the national fraternity in 2012. She also sued Yale University and U-Haul in the original suit, but later withdrew those claims.
The national fraternity has said it bears no responsibility for the accident.
In an Oct. 2013 deposition provided to the News by Faxon Law Group — the firm representing Short — the national fraternity’s chief executive officer, Brian Warren, Jr., said that individual chapters are self-governing and that the national organization is not accountable for problems within each chapter.
“We are just not in a position to know — or be the first to know, because we don’t have direct involvement in the chapter operation,” he testified.
The fraternity filed a motion for summary judgment, in which a judge would have made a decision and the matter would not have gone before a jury.
But Judge Kari Anne Dooley wrote in an order Friday that, after reviewing “extensive” evidence about the two groups’ affiliation, she could find “no one conclusive determination … as to whether an agency relationship exists between the local chapter and the National organization.”
That matter, she said, will be left to a jury to decide.
Eric P. Smith, a Faxon Law partner, said the jury trial would ensure the full accountability of the national organization, which he said does exert control over its local chapters.
“[Ross] was driving to a fraternity-sponsored event for a fraternity purpose,” Smith said. “Based on evidence we uncovered through depositions and discovery, we laid out a whole bunch of ways in which [the national headquarters] have not only direct involvement but direct knowledge of exactly what goes on in New Haven, Connecticut.”
Representatives for the national organization did not return requests for comment.
A separate lawsuit filed by Short is also making its way through Superior Court. That lawsuit names the 86 members of Yale’s SigEp chapter at the time of the accident as defendants.
The 86 members also asked the judge for a summary judgment, and a judge is expected to decide on that question soon, Smith said. If the judge decides that the 86 defendants all appear for trial, they will appear at the same trial as the national fraternity.
Jury selection is scheduled for Dec. 14, according to case documents.
Correction: August 18
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the decision to move the tailgate case to jury trial had been made in New Haven Superior Court. It was made in Waterbury Superior Court.