Judge approves Tucker Hipps lawsuit settlement

Tucker Hipps
Tucker Hipps

(WSPA) — A judge has approved the Tucker Hipps’ family wrongful death lawsuit settlement.

The lawsuit was filed against Clemson University, Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity and three members of the fraternity.

The fraternity members are Thomas Carter King, Sam Carney and Campbell Starr.

The Hipps family was seeking $25 million in the lawsuit.

Hipps’ family alleges that he had been forced to walk along a narrow bridge railing before falling to his death in September 2014. They claim he was hazed during a pre-dawn run involving fraternity members and pledges, and fraternity brothers tried to cover up their role in his death by deleting text messages, phone calls and changing their phone numbers.

Part of the settlement is sealed so we don’t know the total amount of the settlement, but we do know that Clemson University will pay $249.500. Of that total, $128,712.78 will be paid in attorney fees.

Hipps’ body was discovered by a Clemson University police officer in the lake near the Highway 93 bridge on September 22, 2014 after he was reported missing, according to the Oconee County Coroner Karl Addis.

“With the injury seen, it is consistent with him falling from one of the spans, which is approximately 20 to 23 feet above the water surface. He was found in a depth of water of 4-5 feet. The lake bottom in the area he fell is formed with riprap rock,” Addis said.

Clemson University officials said, “Tucker was participating in an early-morning group activity run with fraternity members. He didn’t return from the run and wasn’t at breakfast, so they began looking for him. Members of the fraternity contacted the Clemson University Police Department to report him missing at 1:45 p.m. Monday.”

The Hipps family released this statement after settling the lawsuit:

Cynthia and Gary Hipps, the parents of Tucker Hipps, have reached a resolution of their claims with all of the Defendants in the civil lawsuits filed against Clemson University, Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity and the individual Defendants. The agreement between the parties requires court approval and will be considered confidential under the law in South Carolina.

The Hipps would like to take this opportunity to extend their gratitude to the community that has shown steadfast support to their family since Tucker’s death.

The decision to bring a lawsuit is always a difficult one. The search for truth from a senseless tragedy and the need to hold those accountable often necessitate the institution of a lawsuit.

Lawsuits can illuminate the need for change in the darkness that resulted in a loss of life. The Hipps family has hope for the future of other students at college campuses around the country that positive steps towards eliminating hazing have begun to occur and that the greek community will be a safer place for other students as a result of Tucker’s loss of life.

The Hipps family asks for your continued prayers as they continue to work through the devastating loss of their son, Tucker.

Clemson University and the Hipps family issued a statement after the judge accepted the settlement

On September 22, 2014, Cindy and Gary Hipps, and the Clemson University community, tragically lost a son, a friend, and a lifelong Tiger, Tucker Hipps. Tucker was a talented and much loved young man known for his leadership skills and his warm and friendly nature, which allowed him to easily make friends wherever he went.

Before Tucker’s death, Clemson had begun instituting changes to its policies regarding its Greek system to improve the experience for our students. After Tucker’s death, the University accelerated its efforts and made additional substantial changes to its Greek system including:

• Adding new staff members to implement leadership and health/wellness programming, and to increase council advising support.
• Increasing new member education on hazing, alcohol, sexual misconduct, academic success and more, from a one-day session in fall 2015 to a four-week education series in fall 2016.
• Adding Fraternity and Sorority Life Certified Peer Educators to implement peer-led wellness programs.

As a result of these changes, the 2016-2017 academic year saw a substantial decrease in major charges and violations of the Student Code of Conduct by fraternity members. The Hipps family supports the University’s continued efforts to address issues related to the Clemson University fraternity system so that it truly represents the best of Clemson’s values, and the University deeply appreciates their support.

As part of their efforts to enhance the amount of information concerning Greek organizations available to students and parents, the Hipps were instrumental in the passage of the Tucker Hipps Transparency Act, which requires colleges and universities in South Carolina to post information on their websites detailing fraternity and sorority student organization misconduct. Clemson fully supports that Act.

Clemson is committed to further strengthening its Greek community. The Hipps support these efforts.