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West Virginia University denies negligence in student’s alcohol-related death

The governing board of West Virginia University is denying in court papers that the university was negligent in the 2014 death of Amherst freshman Nolan M. Burch.

The WVU board of governors responded this week to a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the family of Burch, 18, who died after drinking an extreme amount of liquor at a fraternity event last November.

The university’s board argued that it did not sanction any events that led to Burch’s death, according to the Morgantown Dominion Post.

Morgantown Police have said that Burch was among 20 students pledging to become members of Kappa Sigma fraternity who participated in a ritual known as “Big/Little,” during which fraternity members handed each pledge a bottle of liquor.

Following the initiation, which happened in an off-campus apartment building, Burch was taken back to the Kappa Sigma house, where he was found without a pulse shortly before midnight.

He died two days later in Ruby Memorial Hospital. Authorities determined his blood-alcohol content was 0.493 percent.

Burch’s parents, TJ and Kim, filed a wrongful death suit in October, accusing the fraternity of pressuring their son “to drink excessive amounts of alcohol in order to be accepted for admission into Kappa Sigma.” The fraternity, the university, two fraternity members who were criminally charged with hazing in the case, and the owners of the apartment building were named as defendants in the suit.

The university apparently was the first defendant to respond.

According to the Dominion Post, the board of governors stated in its answer that the fraternity was not chartered and therefore had no members or pledges. It also said that the university did not require Burch to attend or participate in any events that led to his death and that any injuries were not due to the actions of the board of governors or its agents.

The Burches, who are being represented by Buffalo attorney Terrence M. Connors, argued in court papers that the university was negligent because it allowed Kappa Sigma to operate as a student organization despite knowing that it promoted hazing, excessive drinking and underage drinking. The lawsuit also states that the university did not investigate allegations of fraternity misconduct.