Grenier v. Commissioner of Transportation
Once a fraternity undertook to provide transportation for an event, it assumed a duty to do so safely. Nicholas Grass, pledging to become a member of Delta Kappa Epsilon Phi Chapter, Yale Universitys local chapter of Delta Kappa Epsilon National Fraternity, attended a fraternity event in New York City, following Hell Week, when fraternity members kept pledges awake every night. The event concluded at 3:30am. Nicholas Sinatra, chapter president, directed fraternity members to drive pledges back to Yale. Grass rode in a vehicle driven by Sean Fenton. Fenton, fatigued from Hell Week, collided with a disabled truck on Interstate 95 in a snowy, darkened construction area. Grass and others died. Marc Grenier, administrator of Grass estate, brought suit against the commissioner of transportation and highway contractors. The contractors filed apportionment complaints against Delta National and Phi Chapter. The administrator filed an amended complaint asserting claims against these fraternity defendants. The trial court granted summary judgment to the fraternity defendants finding they owed no duty to Grass. The plaintiff appealed. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment. The plaintiff presented sufficient evidence to create a genuine issue of material fact that Delta National was sufficiently involved with Phi Chapters activities to owe Grass a duty of care. Whether a national fraternity may be held liable for a local chapters actions depends on its ability to exercise control over the local chapter and knowledge of inappropriate behavior or that risk management policies are not followed. The panel also agreed that the trial court misconstrued the count against Phi Chapter as alleging an inadequate claim of negligence per se based on a violation of the hazing statute, C.G.S. §53-23a. The plaintiff sufficiently alleged a common-law negligence claim. The majority reasoned that absent circumstances creating a special relationship, Phi Chapter owed no general common-law duty to protect Grass to obligate it to provide safe transportation for fraternity events. But, once Phi Chapter undertook to provide transportation to Grass, it assumed a duty to do so safely. Whether Phi Chapters actions constituted a breach of duty, presented a question of fact for the jury. The majority concluded that the public policy of prohibiting hazing in C.G.S. §53-23a, was inapplicable. Justice Eveleigh concurred and dissented, in part, concluding that hazing was involved and a duty of care created.