Jury awards Roswell parents $6.1 million after son’s hazing death at LSU

Credit: � 2017 Cox Media Group.

Credit: � 2017 Cox Media Group.

Max Gruver died in September 2017

A jury in Louisiana has awarded Georgia parents $6.1 million in their federal lawsuit following their son’s death due to hazing at LSU.

Stephen and Rae Ann Gruver of Roswell filed the suit in November 2018, about 14 months after their son Max died during a hazing incident at the Phi Delta Theta fraternity house. At the time of his death in September 2017, he had an alcohol level of .495 — more than six times the legal limit for drivers.

“The verdict sends a message about how serious juries take hazing. And rightfully so,” the Gruvers said in a statement released by attorney Jonathon Fazzola. “Our son’s death was senseless and preventable, and the jury’s award reflects how much damage his loss has caused our family. Although the verdict does not — and cannot ever — repair that loss, it is another important step in our mission to end hazing.”

After Gruver’s death, then-LSU President F. King Alexander suspended all Greek activities, and the fraternity’s national headquarters also investigated the death and suspended the chapter.

According to the lawsuit, LSU discriminates by policing sorority hazing incidents more strictly than hazing at fraternities. The university claimed sovereign immunity.

“We are grateful that the jury understood that Max and his pledge brothers had no real choice and were not at fault for the hell they had to endure,” the Gruvers’ statement continued. “And, significantly, through its verdict, the jury put to rest the notion that merely being a bystander to hazing absolves a fraternity member of responsibility. If you see something, step up, make a difference, call 911, and save a life.”

Matthew Naquin, of Fair Oaks Ranch, Texas, was convicted in July 2019 of negligent homicide in Gruver’s death. Naquin was later sentenced to five years in prison, but a judge suspended all but 2½ years of the term.

Max Gruver was a 2017 graduate of Blessed Trinity High School and planned to study journalism at LSU. He loved sports and helped coach younger children, including his sister’s basketball team, according to his family.

“Max was very lovable. He cared a lot about people,” Eugene Gruver, Max’s grandfather, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in the days after his death. “He was bright, he was intelligent. He was so talented. He knew all about sports.”

The family later founded The Max Gruver Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to ending hazing on college campuses. His parents said a journal entry found shortly after his death inspired the foundation.