Father of student injured after fall at WVU fraternity house files lawsuit

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The father of a West Virginia University student who fell down the steps in the Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) fraternity house in November 2018, causing permanent brain damage and leaving him paralyzed, has filed a lawsuit against the fraternity and many of its members, alleging that his son was left unattended despite being in critical condition.

David A. Rusko, the father of David M. Rusko, has filed a lawsuit against both the national SAE fraternity and the local chapter at West Virginia University, SAE West Virginia Gamma Chapter (SAE-WV). The lawsuit is also filed against the following SAE fraternity members.

  • Ed Cole (Fraternity Advisor for SAE-WV)
  • Chris Platz (Regional Director for SAE)
  • Jane Doe (House Mother for SAE-WV)
  • Benjamin T. Flower (Officer for SAE-WV)
  • Paul M. Perzynski
  • Jared R. Zickafoose
  • Cole Platt
  • Bryan P. Kondracki
  • Coltin J. Gore
  • Nathan L. Strietbeck
  • Zachary Pope
  • David J. Mauser
  • Brian R. Schneider
  • Brendan W. Dunn
  • Michael W. Geary

Additionally, the lawsuit has been filed against the Alpha Rho Corporation of West Virginia, which is a non-profit corporation that owns the SAE-WV fraternity house. The lawsuit is also filed against the Greek System Support Corporation, a non-profit rental and leasing corporation that provides building maintenance, safety inspection and repair and support services for the SAE-WV fraternity house.

The lawsuit states that the “matter arises from the acts and the omissions of the defendants, which caused David M. Rusko’s permanent brain injuries and paralysis.”

The lawsuit claims that SAE-WV is a repeat violator of WVU’s university code of conduct rules and regulations, SAE’s own Minerva’s Shield code of conduct, Morgantown’s noise nuisance laws and the Fire Marshal’s fire code regulations regarding overcrowding. Additionally, the lawsuit states SAE-WV has been sanctioned and fined by WVU for unauthorized, unregistered and unruly social functions at the fraternity house for various violations, including:

  • Hosting an unregistered social function
  • Providing, furnishing or making alcohol available to those under 21
  • Disorderly conduct
  • Presence of kegs, party balls or mass consumption devices
  • Failure to follow local policies and/or laws
  • Missing event monitors
  • Fire Code violations
  • Nuisance
  • Glass container violations
  • Guest list violations
  • Other safety hazards

The lawsuit states that on these occasions, SAE-WV and the national organization of SAE were notified by Cole, Flower and Platz or others of the violations.

In Minerva’s Shield, SAE’s membership agreement, hazing is defined as “any action or situation, with or without the consent of the participants, which recklessly, intentionally, or unintentionally endangers the mental, physical or academic health or safety of a member or guest.”

The lawsuit goes on to explain that despite the notice of unauthorized, unregistered, unruly and unsafe conduct at the SAE-WV chapter prior to the day of David M. Rusko’s fall (November 10), the national organization, local chapter, Cole, Flower, Platz, Doe and others failed to provide effective monitoring, supervision, oversight, reporting and control of the conduct at activities at the fraternity house.

Additionally, the lawsuit alleges that the national SAE organization, local chapter, Cole, Flower, Platz, Doe and others permitted the SAE fraternity house to exist in the condition it was in, despite it presenting significant foreseeable danger to the fraternity members, students and members of the public living in and visiting the house.

The lawsuit claims that the third floor staircase that David M. Rusko fell down has a steep rise; the width of the steps and walls are too narrow; there is no handrail; and the stairway rises directly under a beam, which requires a person to duck his/her head under a beam to go up or down between the second and third floors.

Before November 10, 2018, there were at least two instances where fraternity members fell down the third-floor stairs, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit also claims that there were even more events prompting complaints by fraternity members about the dangerous and unsafe features of the third-floor stairs. The national organization, local chapter, Cole, Flower, Platz and Doe were aware that fraternity members complained about the third-floor stairs, and yet, failed to take any action to make sure the stairway was repaired and was safe, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also claims that Alpha Rho and Greek System Support knew prior to November 10 that the third-floor stairs were unsafe and presented a foreseeable danger to those using them. The lawsuit states that despite that knowledge, both organizations failed to take actions to repair the stairs and ensure the stairway provided was reasonably safe.

The lawsuit states that after an investigation by SAE, SAE-WV, WVU and Morgantown Police that included 45 recorded interviews or handwritten statements; the review of more than three hours of recorded video-taping; and the review of extensive texting, photographic and social media evidence contained on numerous cell phones; SAE and SAE-WV verified the following through a signed and agreed resolution:

“The Office of Student Council received a report indicating that on November 10 a member of your organization fell down the steps inside your fraternity house and was injured and rendered unconscious. Numerous members of your organization moved him twice while he remained unconscious. Numerous members of your organization took selfies with the student and piled trash and debris on his body as he lay unconscious and in medical distress (his body was twitching and his breathing labored). The actions of your organization endangered this individual and were meant to cause him embarrassment and members of your organization failed to render aid or call for medical assistance for over two hours.”

The following paragraphs describe the events that happened on November 10 to David M. Rusko, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit states that on November 10, after the WVU vs. TCU football game, SAE-WV organized an unregistered party that had not been authorized by the university at the fraternity house. Jane Doe was required to be present but was not, according to the lawsuit. Additionally, SAE-WV failed to check age identification of the attending alcohol-drinking individuals and permitted non-fraternity members to attend the party. The lawsuit also states that SAE-WV served visibly-intoxicated individuals alcohol, permitted the public and members to supply alcohol in excess of required limitations and provided no sober designated driver representative to serve the alcohol.

The lawsuit states that video surveillance shows Rusko was on the third floor of the fraternity house. As Rusko descended down the stairs to the second floor, he fell down the staircase due to the multiple unsafe conditions of the stairway, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit claims that after Rusko fell down the stairs, two fraternity members, Perzynski and Zickafoose, approached him while he was lying unconscious at the foot of the stairs, pulled him into the hall and began mocking him by taking selfies with him while he was unconscious. The lawsuit goes on to say that after taking the pictures, Perzynski and Zickafoose proceeded to pick Rusko up, carry him down the hall to a room with the help of Platt and leave him unattended.

The lawsuit states that approximately 40 minutes later, Gore, Kondracki and Strietbeck carried Rusko (while he was upside down) out of the room and down to the main floor before placing him on a couch.

According to the lawsuit, Geary knew Rusko was unconscious, but he laughed as he filmed the group carrying Rusko. The lawsuit states that Flower, the vice president of the fraternity, witnessed Rusko being carried by other fraternity members while he was unconscious, as they laughed and video-taped him. However, Flower did not intervene or call for medical attention for Rusko, in contravention of SAE-WV fraternity requirements, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit claims that throughout the night, video surveillance revealed that Rusko exhibited symptoms of labored breathing and unresponsiveness, yet no one present called 911 or asked for emergency medical assistance until much later in the evening.

The lawsuit claims that while Rusko was unconscious on the main floor couch, Strietbeck took a ketchup bottle and began squirting Rusko with ketchup. Additionally, the lawsuit states that other fraternity members, including Mauser, Pope, Dunn and Schneider began stacking chairs and other objects onto Rusko and took videos of him lying unconscious, and at all times failed to provide him aid.

Perzynski distributed videos on Snapchat of Rusko lying unconscious, while other fraternity members distributed video on other social media platforms. Additionally, the lawsuit stated that Pope went to Rusko multiple times through the night to laugh, video and mock him. Pope provided no aid to Rusko, even though Rusko was visibly and audibly struggling to breathe, according to the lawsuit.

According to the lawsuit, well over two hours after Rusko’s fall, EMS was called. The lawsuit states that medical attention was called only after blood began coming out of Rusko’s nose, and his mouth started foaming. The emergency medical personnel noted upon arrival that Rusko was hypoxic, meaning his brain was not getting enough oxygen to sustain function.

Rusko was then taken to Ruby Memorial Hospital, where it was noted his blood gases showed he was acidotic, further indicating his brain was not getting sufficient oxygen and had not been for a period of time, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit states that as a result of the brain injuries suffered by Rusko, in addition to other bodily and personal injuries, he has been severely and permanently injured; he has experienced pain and suffering; he requires 24-hour nursing assistance; he is permanently and totally disabled from gainful employment; and he has incurred significant medical expenses in the past and will continue to do so in the future.

The first count of the lawsuit, negligence, claims that every defendant was negligent in their actions on the night of November 10, as described in the paragraphs above.

The second count of the lawsuit, intentional infliction of emotional distress, claims that some of the acts of the defendants individually and collectively were atrocious, intolerable and so extreme and outrageous as to exceed the bounds of decency. The second count also claims that some of the acts of the defendants were done with intent to inflict emotional distress, or were done recklessly when it was certain or substantially certain emotional distress would result from the conduct. As a result of this, Rusko suffered emotional distress that was so severe no reasonable person could be expected to endure it, according to the lawsuit. Additionally, the second count states that Rusko suffered serious bodily and personal injury, pain and suffering, impairment of the capacity to enjoy life, substantial medical expenses and lost income past and future.

The third count of the lawsuit, joint venture, claims that SAE and SAE-WV allowed the events of November 10 to happen.

The fourth count of the lawsuit, invasion of privacy, claims that Gore, Kondracki and Strietbeck placed Rusko in full public display. The lawsuit states that Gore removed Rusko’s shirt before leaving him, and that Rusko was exposed throughout the evening. According to the lawsuit, the act of carrying Rusko from a private room and placing him on public display in the main entrance of the fraternity house constitutes as an unreasonable intrusion and invasion of his privacy.

The fifth count of the lawsuit, tort of outrage, claims that the failure to seek medical attention for Rusko when the defendants knew, or should have known, that he had fallen down the stairs and/or was rendered unconscious for some other reason were extreme, unreasonable, and outrageous.

In the sixth count of the lawsuit, the plaintiff is seeking punitive damages against the defendants.

David A. Rusko, David M. Rusko’s father, is seeking compensation for his son’s injuries, punitive damages, pre-judgment and post-judgment interest, costs related to the prosecution of the lawsuit, attorney fees and any other compensation the court deems proper.

The plaintiff is seeking a trial by jury.

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