A $25 million wrongful death lawsuit stemming from the 2016 hazing-related death of a Ferrum College student was settled last year for $544,000.
Michael Anthony Walker, a freshman at the college, was found unconscious on April 17, 2016, at an off-campus party hosted by the Sigma Alpha Kappa fraternity, which Walker had pledged.
He was hospitalized and pronounced dead eight days later.
Melissa Seamster French, Walker’s mother, brought a lawsuit against a number of defendants including Ferrum College and six fraternity members. The lawsuit was filed in 2017, and settled in 2018, with the final settlement in July.
Paul Thomson, French’s attorney, said he was prohibited from commenting on the case. Ferrum College declined through a spokeswoman to comment and its attorney did not respond to a request for comment.
The lawsuit argued that Ferrum College and the fraternity’s adviser failed to train, supervise and discipline Sigma Alpha Kappa and ensure it complied with state regulations and best practices regarding hazing. It said that the six fraternity members — officers, pledge master and big brother to Walker — failed to protect Walker from unsafe pledging activities, including hazing.
The initial filing states that Walker endured hazing of various kinds — sleep deprivation, paddling and forced consumption of alcohol, among other things — as a Sigma Alpha Kappa pledge.
On the day of his initiation to the fraternity, Walker drank so much that he became sick and was unable to walk without help.
Some of the student defendants, according to the initial filing, pushed Walker around in a wheelchair and photographed him while he was incapacitated. They left him alone and did not immediately seek medical help.
When emergency responders eventually arrived, they were unable to revive Walker. He was taken to Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital, where he died several days later.
French’s lawyers argued in the initial filing that Ferrum College should have known the dangers posed by fraternity hazing, and also that Sigma Alpha Kappa was not affiliated with a national fraternity and did not have the supervision, education and risk-management resources that come along with that.
The case was ultimately settled for far less than French sought in her initial filing.
Ferrum College had the smallest settlement of all. Although the college disputed the circumstances of Walker’s injuries and death along with its liability in the matter, court documents show its insurer, CollegeRRG Risk Retention Group, offered to pay $14,000.
The bulk of the $544,000 paid to settle the lawsuit came from the six fraternity brothers.
At the time of Walker’s death, they were all insured under policies of liability insurance issued to their parents, which covered the costs of their settlements, court documents show. Together, they paid $530,000.