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Higher Education Institutions in Pennsylvania Avoid Untenable Liability with Defense Verdict in Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA (February 1, 2024) – The Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) recently prevailed in a wrongful death case with a defense verdict in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. Penn State was represented by Geoffrey F. Sasso and Kyle J. Meyer of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney.

In 2021, the Estate of Natasha E. Ellis filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Penn State and others. Ellis lost her life in a 2019 motor vehicle accident after visiting a student apartment on Penn State’s Abington campus. Ellis (age 21) visited the apartment with her boyfriend (age 20), also a non-student. Afterwards, the two adults left campus and were involved in the accident in Delaware County. Penn State had no knowledge these two non-students were on campus. The plaintiffs’ claim was an attempt to circumvent the law and impose a legal duty on Pennsylvania universities and colleges to stop underage drinking on campuses, even by non-students.

“While no one disputes that this event was tragic, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has been very clear on this issue for more than 30 years. Colleges and universities do not have a duty to supervise adults, particularly non-student adults. The law in this area makes sense and it exists for a reason and – notwithstanding efforts to push this invalid claim to a jury – this jury understood and accepted that common sense reason.” said Sasso, shareholder in Buchanan's litigation section. “The verdict comes at a time when high-dollar plaintiffs verdicts continue to be on the rise in Philadelphia and the defense bar is alleged to have fallen behind the plaintiffs’ bar, but strategic and skilled litigation teams such as this team from Buchanan have risen to the occasion and we have and will continue to protect our clients’ interest.”

“Penn State has assembled a talented group of outside counsel, including Buchanan Ingersoll, to navigate a range of legal issues the University may face. Penn State is grateful for Geoff Sasso and the Buchanan Ingersoll team for providing exceptional representation in this particularly tragic case, securing a defense verdict for the University,” said David W. Dulabon, Associate General Counsel at The Pennsylvania State University.