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Gordie Bailey civil case ruling by Colorado Supreme Court

Damages limited in CU hazing suit
Gordie Bailey’s mother can’t get more than $341,250 in non-economic damages

By Vanessa Miller (Contact)
Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Colorado Supreme Court this week capped the amount of money the mother of a University of Colorado freshman who died of alcohol poisoning may recover in her lawsuit against the fraternities and students she alleges are responsible for her son’s 2004 death.

Leslie Lanahan filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Chi Psi fraternity, the Alpha Psi Delta corporation and seven fraternity members in April 2006, alleging they were responsible for fatally hazing Lynn Gordon “Gordie” Bailey, 18, who had received a bid to joinCU’s Chi Psi chapter.

Lanahan argued that, if she were to win in court, she should be able to receive a maximum of $250,000 in non-economic damages — covering pain and suffering — from each defendant listed in the lawsuit. Because nine different organizations and people are named as defendants, Lanahan argued she should be allowed to recover as much as $2.25 million.
Leslie Lanahan, right, mother of Gordie Bailey, the fraternity pledge who died of alcohol poisoning in 2004, hugs Steve DeGroot, Bailey’s roommate at the time, during a memorial in Bailey’s honor in 2005. The Colorado Supreme Court this week capped the amount of money Lanahan can win in her wrongful death lawsuit.

CAmera file photo

Leslie Lanahan, right, mother of Gordie Bailey, the fraternity pledge who died of alcohol poisoning in 2004, hugs Steve DeGroot, Bailey’s roommate at the time, during a memorial in Bailey’s honor in 2005. The Colorado Supreme Court this week capped the amount of money Lanahan can win in her wrongful death lawsuit.

But the state’s highest court ruled this week that the $250,000 cap applies per lawsuit, not per defendant.

“The non-economic damages cap in wrongful death actions applies on a per-claim basis,” Justice Maria E. Berkenkotter wrote in the court’s ruling.

Because Colorado’s non-economic damages cap dates back more than a decade, the Supreme Court ruled that amount can be adjusted for inflation, and Lanahan can win as much as $341,250.

The case, originally set for trial in March, was postponed after defendant Patrick Wall — a member of the Chi Psi fraternity — argued that the cap applied to the lawsuit as a whole and couldn’t be applied to every person named in the suit.

The state’s high court sided with Wall on Tuesday. He could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

“We’re disappointed in the decision,” said Bruce Jones, Lanahan’s attorney. “But despite the decision, the Lanahans and the Baileys are still bent on seeking accountability in the death of her son. They’re intent to go forward.

“It’s not all about the money.”

Bailey’s body was found in the library of the Chi Psi mansion the morning of Sept. 17, 2004. Police said Bailey had been left to sleep off the alcohol he and other pledges had drunk during a hazing ritual. The Boulder County Coroner’s Office ruled the freshman pledge from Dallas died from alcohol poisoning.

Lanahan alleges in her lawsuit that Bailey and other pledges were “forced to drink large amounts of alcohol,” and the defendants then left a “dangerously intoxicated” Bailey on a couch with a bucket. The lawsuit alleges the defendants chose not to call paramedics until the next day, after Bailey had died.

“Instead, they and other Chi Psi members continued to party, during which time they wrote offensive and derogatory remarks on Bailey’s body,” Lanahan’s attorneys wrote in the civil complaint.

Lanahan didn’t return calls from the Camera on Wednesday.

Now that the Supreme Court has ruled on the non-economic damages issue, Jones said the case can go forward and a trial date can be reset.

Contact Camera Staff Writer Vanessa Miller at 303-473-1329 or millerv@dailycamera.com.

By Hank Nuwer

Hank Nuwer is the Indiana-based author of Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. He has written articles or columns on hazing for the Sunday Times of India, Toronto Globe & Mail, Harper's Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times Sunday Magazine. His new book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press.

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