Ithaca, N.Y. — A London insurance company is being sued by the former president of a Cornell fraternity where a student died in a 2011 hazing.


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The NY Daily News reported on Friday that the former Cornell fraternity president, State Farm Fire and the Casualty Company are suing Lloyd’s, the London insurers, for not paying its part of a $25 million claim brought by the deceased student’s mother.

Eric Barnum, the president of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity at the time of the death, was not involved in the deadly hazing of George Desdunes. Barnum’s family contends in court records that the Cornell grad shouldn’t pay for Desdunes’ death, according to the New York Post.

Four SAE brothers — Max Haskin, Benn Mann, Edward Williams and a fourth person whose name was sealed because of his age — were indicted on criminal charges but later acquitted at trial in Tompkins County Court.

Witnesses said Desdunes was bound by zip ties and blindfolded, fed vodka, pixie sticks and strawberry syrup as part of a “reverse kidnapping” hazing ritual. The fraternity did not defend itself in court from the hazing charges and was found guilty, according to the Cornell Daily Sun.

Desdunes’ mother, Marie Lourdes Andre, later brought a separate, $25 million civil lawsuit against the fraternity and a group of its brothers, leading to the new lawsuit against Lloyd’s. Her son, 19, was an aspiring doctor. The civil lawsuit is still working its way through the courts.

The Daily News has more details on the position taken by the family of Barnum, the former SAE president:

“The family and State Farm want Lloyd’s to stand by its policy and help shoulder the costs of defending Barnum, who was not present during the induction rite, and of any ultimate settlement.

In court papers, Adams said Lloyd’s underwriters contend that Lloyd’s does not have to stand by its policy because the policy “excludes coverage … for any claims arising out of, in any way related to, or in any way resulting from any type or form of ‘hazing.’”

However, he notes, Barnum is not accused in the lawsuit of participating in “the alleged hazing” and so the exclusion should not apply to him.

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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.