The parents of a Louisiana State University student who died in 2017 after an on-campus hazing event have been awarded $6.1 million by a jury in Baton Rouge, La., according to the family’s lawyer.
The student, Maxwell Gruver, 18, of Roswell, Ga., died the day after he took part in a Phi Delta Theta fraternity ritual that required pledges to take several three- to five-second chugs from a bottle of Diesel, a 190-proof liquor, according to court documents filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana.
According to court documents, an autopsy determined that Mr. Gruver had a blood-alcohol content of 0.495 percent, which is more than six times the legal limit in the state for drivers over 21.
On Wednesday, the jury reached a verdict in the case against one of the former fraternity members and his insurance company, the lawyer, Jonathon Fazzola, who works for the Fierberg National Law Group, said during a phone interview.
The family, he added, had already been paid a “significant sum” of money from settlements reached with the 17 other defendants initially named in the civil suit, including Louisiana State University and the Phi Delta Theta fraternity. He said that the family planned to use the funds to continue supporting the mission of the Max Gruver Foundation, an organization founded by his parents that aims to end hazing on college campuses.
According to court documents, $6 million was awarded to Mr. Gruver’s parents for damages suffered as a result of their son’s death. An additional $100,000 was awarded to them for the “pain and suffering, fright, fear or mental anguish” that Mr. Gruver endured during the episode and up until his death.
Neither the university nor the fraternity could be reached for comment on Sunday evening.
In 2019, Matthew Naquin, a former Louisiana State University student, was convicted of negligent homicide for his role in Mr. Gruver’s death. Prosecutors argued that he had acted as a ringleader during the hazing, which they said required pledges to stand in a dark hallway facing a wall while a strobe light flashed and loud music played.
The parents of Mr. Gruver, Stephen and Rae Ann Gruver, said that the jury’s award in the civil case reflected how much damage the “senseless and preventable” death of their son had caused their family.
“Although the verdict does not — and cannot ever — repair that loss, it is another important step in our mission to end hazing,” they added in a statement provided by Mr. Fazzola. “We are grateful that the jury understood that Max and his pledge brothers had no real choice and were not at fault for the hell they had to endure. And, significantly, through its verdict, the jury put to rest the notion that merely being a bystander to hazing absolves a fraternity member of responsibility.”
In 2018, the year after Mr. Gruver’s death, the Louisiana Legislature passed the Max Gruver Act, introducing a statewide definition of hazing, as well measures for prevention. Under the act, hazing is considered a felony.