Family Of LSU Fraternity Pledge Awarded $6.1 Million After Hazing-Related Death

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The family of an LSU fraternity pledge who died after a hazing ritual in 2017 was awarded $6.1 million, and the family’s attorney said Monday that the verdict should send a powerful message about the dangers of hazing.

Max Gruver, originally from Georgia, had only been at Louisiana State University for a month when he decided to pledge Phi Delta Theta. Although hazing is prohibited by LSU and Phi Theta Alpha, older fraternity members forced new pledges to undergo a hazing ritual. Witnesses claim that fraternity member Matthew Naquin ordered Gruver to drink an entire bottle of 190-proof liquor, according to CBS News. Gruver died the next morning with a blood-alcohol level of 0.495%. (RELATED: ‘LSU Smacks Frat With 15-Year Ban After Pledge’s Death’)

Numerous criminal cases ensued. In 2019, Naquin was sentenced to five years in prison for negligent homicide, although he only served two and a half years. Ryan Isto and Sean Paul Gott, both fraternity members, spent 30 days in jail on a misdemeanor charge related to Gruver’s death. 

Gruver’s family also reached private settlements in civil cases with LSU, Phi Delta Theta and individual fraternity members, according to US News

In response to the tragedy, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards signed a series of measures in 2018 to make hazing a felony, CNN reported

The recently concluded civil trial found Isto to be two percent at fault for Gruver’s death and responsible for $122,000 in damages, while Naquin was found 80 percent at fault. The jury awarded Gruver’s parents a total of $6.1 million in damages.

Don Cazayoux, the family’s attorney, told CBS that the verdict sends the message to would-be hazers that “you could hurt someone, you could kill someone.”

Since their son’s death, Rae Ann and Stephen Gruver have become anti-hazing advocates and speak at high schools and colleges across the country about the dangers of hazing. “This [verdict] definitely sends a strong message to would-be hazers across the country to take pause and think about what you’re doing. Think about the dangers of hazing, think about how it can harm people and how you’ll be held accountable,” Stephen told The Advocate.