A series of lawsuits filed by the mother of a UCSB student who died at a fraternity party more than two years ago have either been dismissed, settled or are close to completion.
Elizabeth Fang, former president of Sigma Kappa Chi, died on April 9, 1999 of an undiagnosed heart condition, which was aggravated after she ingested one pill of MDMA – commonly known as “Ecstasy” – approximately five and a half hours prior to her death. Fang’s mother, Seng Fang, brought a wrongful death lawsuit against the University of California, UC President Richard Atkinson, UC Santa Barbara, Chancellor Henry Yang, Lambda Phi Epsilon National, Lambda Phi Epsilon local and six of Elizabeth’s friends, who were present in the house at the time.
The cases against Lambda Phi Epsilon national and local as well as the lawsuits against all university-affiliated personnel were dismissed. A lawsuit against one of Elizabeth Fang’s friends was also dismissed.
Fang had begun to vomit three hours after taking the tablet, at 6:15 a.m., and by 8:45 a.m. had begun to hallucinate and convulse. Friends called a Student Health drug-counseling hotline at 9:15 a.m. and were advised to call 911. The friends named in the suit were sued for encouraging Fang to ingest MDMA and then failing to seek medical treatment for an “inordinate amount of time,” according to court records.
The main defendant, Ryan Yan, a friend of Elizabeth Fang’s who was present the morning of her death, settled with Seng Fang out of court for $1.3 million, which his insurance policy should have covered. However Yan’s insurance agency, Liberty Mutual, decided not to honor the policy. Yan then signed over his right to sue the insurance agency to Fang’s lawyer, Brian O’Connor, who is currently pursuing the case.
“He essentially settled by signing his right against an insurance company,” Yan’s attorney, Stan Roden said. “He signed for a breach of contract against the insurance company.”
“We settled [Ryan Yan’s] case for $1.3 million, but his insurance carrier, Liberty Mutual, has denied him the coverage, so Ryan Yan signed over the right to proceed against the company for bad faith coverage,” O’Connor said.
Ted Ngo, another friend of the deceased who was present the morning of her death, settled his case out of court six weeks ago.
“He settled his case by making a small contribution to a memorial fund,” Ngo’s attorney, Christopher Kallmand said.
The money was donated to the Elizabeth Fang Memorial Fund. The amount contributed is private information and could not be disclosed, Kallmand said
Another friend of Elizabeth’s, Eva Marie Yuen, is also in the process of settling with the plaintiff. Details about the amount to be settled on are still being worked out. “It’s my understanding that it is about to be resolved,” her attorney, Paul Krenser, said.
Khoa Dang Dia, also present that night, settled out of court for $20,000. The suit against another defendant, Heidi Harumi Hirahara, also settled.
The suit against the UC was dismissed in September 2000 in exchange for a “waiver of costs.” A waiver of costs means that the UC promises not to sue for its legal bills, up to $5,000, if the suit is dropped.
Seng Fang dismissed the case against the UC because she could not prove there was a link between her daughter’s death and the university since the UC and its employees cannot be held legally responsible for the actions of its adult students while they are not on campus.
“The representatives of the University originally named are no longer parties to this suit,” Chancellor Henry Yang said.
“The loss of a student life is absolutely a terrible tragedy for our campus,” Yang said. “The death of Elizabeth Fang is still deeply felt throughout our UCSB community and her family continues to have our deepest sympathy and condolences.”
Fang also dismissed the lawsuits against the national and local fraternities, Lambda Phi Epsilon’s lawyer Jason Louie said.
One of Elizabeth Fang’s friends involved in the suit did not settle his case. The lawsuit against Richard Lee, a resident in the fraternity house where Elizabeth died, was dismissed because there was a “lack of causation.” Lee’s attorney Daniel Henderson said Lee was not a participant in the drug consumption, did not supply the drug, nor did he encourage anyone to take the drug. Lee was asleep throughout Fang’s brief illness and was not awakened until 5 a.m., at which time Fang was already unconscious.
“They couldn’t show that anything he could have done would have helped her cause,” Henderson said. “Their case was based on causation; there was no causation.”