Phi Tau’s insurer balks at paying

Hurtful Memories Heal Slowly

By Paul Szaniawski

The insurance company that covers Rider’s former chapter of Phi Kappa Tau (PKT) has filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to clear it of financial obligation in the $75 million wrongful death suit filed by the parents of Gary DeVercelly Jr. against the University and the fraternity.

Landmark American Insurance filed the suit March 12 in U.S. District Court after Rider filed an insurance claim in connection with the family’s civil suit.

Presiding Judge Freda Wolfson issued a summons the same day naming co-defendants in the suit: Rider University; alumnus Adriano DiDonato, who served as the fraternity’s house manager at the time of Devercelly’s death; and United Educators Insurance, which covers the University.

In the suit Landmark American Insurance says that is not legally required to insure PKT or Rider because the insurance policy only covers regular fraternity activities, which the company claims does not include hazing or negligence on the part of PKT or Rider.

The family’s civil suit against the chapter holds the fraternity, its brothers and the University responsible for an alleged illegal hazing incident that led to DeVercelly’s alcohol-related death nearly one year ago.

Reached by telephone at PKT’s national office in Oxford, Ohio, Chief Executive Officer Steve Hartman said he was unaware of the national lawsuit and said he could not comment on the situation.

After being sent a recent article by The Times of Trenton detailing the suit via e-mail, Hartman again declined.

“At this time, I do not have anything to add to the details outlined in the article,” he said.

In addition to the coverage loophole, Landmark American Insurance believes it shouldn’t be held responsible to cover PKT or Rider because the University requested assistance from United Educators Insurance, its campuswide insurer.

“We believe that Landmark Insurance has an obligation to the University and the individual fraternity members in this case,” University spokesman Dan Higgins said.

Landmark Insurance’s attorney, Copernicus T. Gaza, told The Rider News from his office in Hawthorne, N.Y., that his client had not authorized him to comment because the company has a policy of not speaking to the media on pending legal matters.

Its suit says that Rider’s attorneys first filed with Landmark Insurance to cover possible litigation cost in October when the DeVercellys said they intended to sue.

Later, Landmark declined the insurance claim, attempting to wash its hands of covering PKT and Rider.

With the recent suit, the insurance company hopes to have a U.S. District Court judge back up its stance legally.

“We expect that when the court rules in the declaratory judgment action it will agree with the University’s position,” Higgins said.

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