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Family settles lawsuit over Stone Foltz's hazing death in "largest payout" by a public university in Ohio history

Fraternity hazing death lawsuit filed
Bowling Green State University student’s family files fraternity hazing death lawsuit 02:41

The family of Stone Foltz, a former student at Ohio's Bowling Green State University who died from alcohol poisoning while pledging a fraternity in 2021, will receive nearly $3 million from the school to settle their hazing-related lawsuit, according to an agreement announced Monday.

The attorney for Foltz's family called the settlement "the largest payout by a public university in a hazing case in Ohio history," CBS affiliate WBNS-TV reported. 

As part of the settlement, the family and the university both said they will work to address and eliminate hazing on college campuses. Foltz's parents have started a foundation focused on hazing education and have spoke to students at other universities about its dangers.

"We can continue our fight saving lives," said Shari Foltz, whose son died died of alcohol poisoning in March 2021.

A university investigation found that the 20-year-old had attended a fraternity initiation event where there was a tradition of new members finishing or attempting to finish a bottle of alcohol, according to a university investigation.

Foltz, from Delaware, Ohio, was found unconscious after members of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity dropped him off at his apartment. He died three days after he was put on life support.

Both sides said in a joint statement issued Monday that they will be forever impacted by his death.

"This resolution keeps the Foltz family and BGSU community from reliving the tragedy for years to come in the courtroom and allows us to focus on furthering our shared mission of eradicating hazing in Ohio and across the nation. Leading these efforts in our communities is the real work that honors Stone," the statement said.

Fraternity Hazing Investigation
Shari Foltz, second left, speaks while her husband Cory Foltz, left, sit next to attorneys Rex Elliott, second right, and Sean Alto in a press conference where Elliott announced that the Foltz family will receive nearly $3 million from Bowling Green State University to settle its lawsuit Monday, Jan. 23, 2023, in Bowling Green, Ohio. Patrick Orsagos / AP

The settlement with the university is on top of more than $7 million in payouts made to the family by the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity and those who had a role in the hazing, according to court documents.

Eight former fraternity members either pleaded guilty or were found guilty on various charges, including reckless homicide, hazing and giving alcohol to a minor.

Two of the eight, though, were acquitted last year of more serious charges including involuntary manslaughter and reckless homicide. Their defense attorneys had argued Foltz was not forced or required to finish the entire bottle and made that decision on his own.

In their lawsuit, Foltz's parents accused the school of failing to stop hazing in fraternities and sororities despite being aware of it.

Their attorney, Rex Elliott, said on Monday that the university is making an effort to prevent another tragedy from happening and that colleges nationwide must play a role in reforming how fraternities and sororities bring in new members.

"Greek organizations will not survive if hazing doesn't come to an end," Elliott said. "Hazing and pledge programs are a relic of the past."

After the hazing death, Bowling Green expelled Pi Kappa Alpha and said it would never again be recognized on campus. The university also developed a plan to address anti-hazing efforts, including hiring a prevention coordinator and making it easier for students to tell the school about hazing.

Foltz's death also spurred changes beyond Bowling Green, including a new state law that created tougher criminal penalties for hazing — a proposal first made after an Ohio University student died in 2018 after ingesting nitrous oxide at a fraternity house.

"We believe it's a case of negligence, but I also believe it is a case of recklessness," Elliott said in a statement to CBS News last June, after the family's lawsuit was filed.

In a separate statement sent to CBS News at the time, Bowling Green University said it had always "actively enforced" an anti-hazing policy on campus, and suggested the lawsuit was "meritless."

"Stone Foltz's death was a tragedy and what his family has endured is unimaginable," the university said. "However, this lawsuit is meritless, ignores that we have actively enforced our anti-hazing policy and undermines our continued efforts to eradicate hazing. We are resolved in our legal position, and as a state-supported university, we will defend our community vigorously against this action. This will not deter our goal to continue to foster a community of care that serves our students and their families." 

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