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MSU student files lawsuit against fraternity for injuries from water balloon

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Posted: Friday, January 4, 2013 5:06 pm

A Missouri State student filed a personal injury lawsuit after being struck in the eye by a water balloon that was allegedly launched by a fraternity member.

Emma Rapp, a senior psychology major and member of Delta Zeta sorority, is petitioning Phi Delta Theta fraternity and its MSU chapter - Missouri Epsilon Chapter - for damages after she was injured by a water balloon that was allegedly thrown by three of its members.

According to court documents, on Sept. 11, 2011, Rapp was at a meeting at the Delta Zeta sorority house near the Phi Delta Theta fraternity house near the edge of Missouri State’s campus.

While the meeting was taking place, members of Phi Delta Theta began shooting water balloons at the women outside of the Delta Zeta house at “a very high rate of speed, using a large, high-powered slingshot launcher,” according to the documents.

The launcher was being used by three people at the Phi Delta Theta house, who are speculated to be Ryan Owens, William Pschier and Anthony Ramos, the documents said.

The women at the Delta Zeta house asked the those at the Phi Delta Theta house to stop launching the balloons, but they did not stop and continued to launch balloons at the house where the women were gathered, according to the documents.

“After the Phi Delta Theta members launched balloons for several minutes, Emma poked her head out the door, and stepped outside, to see if she could leave,” the documents said.

However, the people at the Phi Delta Theta house were still launching water balloons and one of them “struck Emma in her right eye” causing her to fall to the ground and damaging her eye, according to the documents.

“Emma’s eye began bleeding and hemorrhaging,” the documents said. “Emma was in pain. Emma’s eye swelled shut. She suffered extensive swelling and confusion throughout her eye, hemorrhaging in her eye, fracture of her right orbital wall, and herniation of the orbital fat of her eye.”

Since the incident occurred, Rapp has suffered from headaches, double vision, traumatic cataract, traumatic iridodialys, and traumatic mydriasis; dysfunction of her pupil, posterior capsule opacification, vision problems, loss of visual activity, physical change and disfigurement to Emma’s eye, light sensitivity, hyphema and corneal edema, according to court documents.

Rapp will also require future medical care and treatment because of her injuries sustained from the water balloon and is seeking damages, but not as a penalty against Phi Delta Theta, said her lawyer Steve Garner in an email.

“What occurred was neglectful, but it is not a criminal matter and Emma seeks only to recover what she has lost,” he said. “Emma did not want to bring suit. She was hopeful that the fraternity’s insurance company would resolve the claim and everyone could move on with their lives.

“Unfortunately, the Phi Delt’s insurance carrier said they would not cover this loss. They offered nothing, despite recognizing that there was neglect that caused Emma’s injury and that Emma did nothing wrong.”

One reason Rapp did file a lawsuit, however, was because she wants to make sure that no one else is harmed by the balloon launcher, Garner said.

“For years the consumer product safety commission has been sending out warnings about these water balloon launchers,” he said. “They launch the balloons at 50 mph and have killed people, gone through the sides of houses and as in this case, caused severe eye damage...Emma knows that the boys were not trying to hurt her, but like we were told by our mothers, “You are going to put someone’s eye out.’”

The documents name MSU Chapter President Greg Laury and Vice President Dave Corwin from 2011 in the lawsuit. However, there is no allegation against these particular fraternity members, Garner said.

“Under Missouri law, the officers of the fraternity must be named in the suit,” Garner said. “There is no allegation that the individuals named did anything wrong personally, it is just a legal requirement that they be named. I do not even think the young men (Laury and Corwin) were present at the time of the incident.”

The Standard contacted Phi Delta Theta’s current MSU Chapter President Tim Reichert asking for comment on the lawsuit, but was referred to its adviser, James Brandenburg, executive vice-president for US operations of JVS Export, to answer questions.

Brandenburg declined to comment on the lawsuit and referred The Standard to Sean Wagner, associate executive vice president of Phi Delta Theta. 

Wagner forwarded a press release the fraternity had prepared in response to the lawsuit to The Standard on Friday evening.

"While we share in the concern for Ms. Rapp and her well-being, Phi Delta Theta has not yet been served with the lawsuit," the press release said. "Phi Delta Theta will respond appropriately to the suit in accordance with the laws of the State of Missouri."

Phi Delta Theta was founded in 1848 and has 180 chapters, with approximately 242,000 men initiated, according to Brandenburg.

Missouri State’s chapter was chartered in 1985 and has 84 current members, Brandenburg said.

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