SAN DIEGO (CNS) - The family of a 19-year-old San Diego State University student who died after falling from his bunk bed and striking his head following a night of drinking has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against several defendants, including the university, the fraternity he was pledging for, and the manufacturer of the bed he fell from.
The lawsuit filed last week in San Diego Superior Court alleges Dylan Hernandez was hazed by members of Phi Gamma Delta just prior to his death, and that fraternity members not only failed to obtain medical attention for him after he became extremely intoxicated, but also attempted to hide evidence of misconduct following his fatal fall.
Hernandez fell from his bed on Nov. 7, 2019, and died in a hospital the following day.
The lawsuit alleges he attended a "Big Brother, Little Brother" fraternity event that had pledges "screamed at and demeaned, beaten with paddles and hands, and forced to consume shots of vodka and rum to the point of intoxication."
Following his hospitalization, the lawsuit alleges Phi Gamma Delta members instructed others to remove incriminating material from their cell phones and in group chats, members were told to "Keep your mouths shut!" and "Just remember, Silence is Golden!"
Representatives with Phi Gamma Delta did not respond to a request for comment.
Its national office permanently suspended its SDSU chapter in August and SDSU expelled the fraternity until 2030.
In July, it was announced that no criminal charges would be pursued in connection with Hernandez's death, which was ruled accidental. A joint statement released by the university's police department and the San Diego County District Attorney's Office stated there was "no basis" for manslaughter or hazing charges.
Investigators said there were no injuries on Hernandez's body "that appeared consistent with hazing, and no evidence of student group activities likely to cause serious bodily injury or death, which is statutorily required to prove hazing." Other than Hernandez's "devastating head injuries," the only other wound to his body was an abrasion on his thigh, officials said.
One month after that statement was released, Rob Caudill, the fraternity's executive director, sent SDSU a letter announcing the chapter's closure, stating the SDSU chapter had been found guilty of violating fraternity bylaws, including hazing, drug use and violations related to alcohol misuse.
SDSU representatives said the university could not comment as it had not yet seen the lawsuit, but pointed to steps the university has taken to combat hazing activities on campus in the wake of Hernandez's death. These include the formations of two task forces examining student activities and alcohol/substance abuse. Task force recommendations led to the implementation of a Good Samaritan Policy, in which student organizations are encouraged to report concerns about student health and safety, and a Hazing Prevention Task Force that held its first meeting this fall.
Hernandez's family alleges SDSU was aware of prior hazing issues involving Phi Gamma Delta and failed to properly discipline the fraternity for such activities. The family alleges SDSU was aware of prior instances when Phi Gamma Delta pledges were hazed or hospitalized for excessive drinking.
The family also alleges the school created an unsafe environment in the Tenochca Residence Hall where Hernandez suffered the fatal fall by furnishing its rooms with bunk beds that didn't meet minimum safety standards.
In suing SDSU and the bunk bed manufacturer, Foliot Furniture Pacific, the family alleges the beds featured "safety rails" that were defective, and contributed to 550,000 deaths nationwide over a 16-year period and 10 injuries at SDSU between 2017 and 2019.