The family of a 19-year-old San Diego State University student who died after falling from his dorm room bunk bed has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the college, multiple members of his former fraternity, and the bunk bed manufacturer.
Dylan Hernandez died on Nov. 8, 2019, one day after attending a pledge party at SDSU’s Phi Gamma Delta fraternity. According to the lawsuit, Hernandez had become sick from alcohol at the event and was later escorted to his dorm room by friends. At some point during the night, Hernandez rolled from the top bunk, hit his head on the way down and suffered a traumatic brain injury. Hernandez spent the following day on life support and died the following day.
The family’s lawsuit claims that university staff was aware of hazing and underage drinking at the Phi Gamma Delta frat house but did nothing to stop it from happening.
In addition, the family’s lawsuit claims that fraternity brothers encouraged underage drinking, and advised pledges to hide facts of the night from the authorities after Hernandez was hospitalized.
Photos included in the lawsuit that were taken during a Nov. 6, 2019 fraternity party at SDSU where Hernandez spent the last hours of his life indicate hazing occurred at the Big Brother, Little Brother Night.
Those photos show pledges being struck by wooden paddles and taking shots of alcohol. Other pictures show a number of college students passed out drunk on floors and in bed.
According to the lawsuit, SDSU administrators had investigated the fraternity before for hazing and underage drinking at the Phi Gamma Delta frat house. Staff had referred to the fraternity’s Big Brother Little Brother Night as one of the “three deadly nights” for fraternities and sororities at SDSU.
But the family says SDSU played another part in their son’s death.
They allege that while renovating the dorms, SDSU allegedly cut corners in hopes of saving money. In doing so, SDSU purchased what the family claims were unsafe bunk beds from manufacturer Foliot Furniture Pacific.
“Foliot Furniture had knowledge of bunk bed safety issues over the last two decades, and knew the bunk beds it sold to be used by students and the general public were dangerous, defective, lacked required warnings and instructions, and had resulted in the serious injuries and deaths of over 550,000 individuals,” reads the Nov. 25 lawsuit.
Representatives from Foliot could not be reached for comment on the family’s claims.
The family also named eight Phi Gamma Delta fraternity members in the wrongful death suit, alleging they forced Hernandez to consume large amounts of alcohol and sent texts to witnesses and pledges advising them to not talk to authorities after Hernandez was hospitalized.
One text attached to the lawsuit ordered pledges to not “provide the authorities or school with any information,” even asking that someone “wipe” any evidence from Hernandez’s phone.
Another text message read, "Tell your Little Brothers if they want to have a Fraternity, they better shut up and remember that silence is golden."
A university spokesperson could not comment on the allegations in the lawsuit but said that SDSU has taken steps to prevent hazing and underage drinking.
“SDSU has implemented the Good Samaritan Policy for Recognized Student Organizations. All SDSU student organizations are encouraged to report concerns about health and safety and to also seek timely assistance from appropriate emergency personnel and SDSU staff. Students and student organizations will not be penalized for making reports or seeking support," the spokesperson said.
In addition, the spokesperson told NBC 7 that a “Hazing Prevention Task Force to combat hazing has been established at the recommendation of task force members, and members have had their first meeting this fall. Students, faculty, staff and organization community advisors will be appointed to serve as task force members. During the ongoing pandemic, all social fraternities and sororities are required to provide formal acknowledgement of anti-hazing policies. This policy will remain in place after public health orders restricting gatherings are lifted.”
The attorney for the Hernandez family did not respond to a request for comment.