Judge Approves $250K Settlement for the Death of Tucker Hipps

Clemson University issued a statement Thursday morning about its commitment to watchdogging campus fraternities, a silent signal that the civil suit filed against the school over the death of Tucker Hipps has ended.

According to court documents, the settlement calls for the school's insurance to pay Hipps' parents, Cindy and Gary Hipps, $250,000 and to establish a $50,000 endowment that will be used for a student from Palmetto Boys State to attend Clemson University. Tucker Hipps was a counselor at the camp.

Most of the cash that is part of the settlement will be used to pay the Hipps family's lawyers, according to court documents.

Clemson University spokesman John Gouch confirmed to the Independent Mail Thursday that the lawsuit settlement had been approved. He said he could not comment further.

Hipps, a 19-year-old Clemson University sophomore and fraternity pledge, was found dead in Lake Hartwell on Sept. 22, 2014. His body was found  near the S.C. 93 bridge hours after he went on a run with about 30 members of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity.

No criminal charges have been filed in Hipps' death, but his parents, Cindy and Gary Hipps, have long contended he was a victim of hazing. They filed a wrongful death lawsuit and a survival action seeking at least $25 million from Clemson University, the fraternity and several student defendants in March 2015. The two cases were consolidated last year.

Court documents filed electronically Monday show that the Hipps family and Clemson University had reached a settlement and that the settlement simply needed to be approved by a judge.

According to those court documents, one of the terms of the settlement is that once it was approved, Clemson University had to issue a press release  within five days with the exact wording the school used Thursday morning.

Clemson's prepared, written statement, released Thursday, reads:

"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.

"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."

Separate court documents filed Monday indicate there is a different settlement between Cindy and Gary Hipps and the remaining defendants. The monetary terms of that settlement will be discussed privately in a judge's chambers, according to court documents.

Follow Nikie Mayo on Twitter @NikieMayo

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