Denise De Lappe is suing Stanford University and fraternity Phi Kappa Psi for negligence after her son, a sanitation worker, was killed while unloading trash at Stanford into his garbage truck last year.
Jonathan Dillon Marino, an employee of Peninsula Sanitary Services, was loading the on-campus fraternity's Dumpster onto his garbage truck on March 9 when he was crushed between the Dumpster and the truck. The lawsuit contends that the layout of the garbage area at the fraternity house was unsafe and contributed to Marino's death, according to De Lappe's attorney, Nikolaus W. Reed.
Reed said the garbage area was positioned in such a way that it couldn't be accessed by truck and was particularly dangerous because of the incline that led up to it.
The combination of these two factors caused Marino to lose control of the Dumpster, which he chased after by jumping out of the truck, Reed said. The truck then began to roll down hill, crushing Marino against the Dumpster, which had hit a parked car parked on the side of Santa Ynez street. After hitting Marino, the truck continued down the hill across an intersection.
"We're pursuing the fraternity and Stanford who owned it for keeping the property in an unsafe condition," Reed said. "Our position is that it should have arranged the Dumpster and parking area without having a steep incline that was a danger to him."
Thomas Ott, fleet manager and safety officer for Peninsula Sanitary Services, said that investigations by his company, California Highway Patrol and a local dealer that sells the truck determined that the accident was the result of user error.
As Marino noticed that the Dumpster was rolling toward a car and jumped out of the truck to grab it, he neglected to engage his parking brake, Ott said.
"He was a good young man -- very conscientious -- and that's unfortunately part of the reason the accident happened: He was going to stop the Dumpster from hitting that car," he said. "It was just an unfortunate accident. He did the right thing but unfortunately didn't follow the right procedure."
There were no witnesses to the accident, he said.
Marino was transported to Stanford Hospital for treatment where he stayed for weeks. Ott said he hadn't been optimistic about Marino's recovery until doctors began weaning him off his sedation medicine.
"I rubbed his forearm and said 'I've got to go to work now,' and he reached across his body with his right hand and shook my hand," he said. "I thought he was going to make it, but when I went back that afternoon they were trying to revive him."
Marino died the next morning after being taken off life support.
Ott said that this is the first accident resulting in serious injury in his 20 years of experience there.
"He was part of our family. We are a small company, and he was a great young man -- what I like to call a throwback -- a gentleman in all aspects," he said. "A lesser person probably wouldn't have reacted like he did."
Stanford spokesperson Lisa Lapin told the Weekly that, from the university's perspective, it had no involvement in what she called "a tragic accident."
Phi Kappa Psi could not immediately be reached for comment on this story. More information about the case will be posted as it becomes available.