Danny Santulli is in a rehabilitation hospital in Colorado where therapists and his parents work to make progress to restore any of his lost skills.
The former University of Missouri student is unable to walk, speak or respond to commands, said David Bianchi, an attorney representing Santulli's family in a lawsuit against the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity, also known as Fiji.
The lawsuit alleges negligence by the fraternity and individual members of the fraternity.
"He has a significant and permanent brain injury," Bianchi said. "He needs 24-hour around-the-clock care."
He was transferred to Colorado several weeks ago from University of Missouri Hospital, where he had been since being found unresponsive in the fraternity house.
Santulli was a freshman pledge to the MU fraternity. He graduated from Eden Prairie High School in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, last June. He played baseball and basketball in high school. He was the team manager for the school's hockey team. He also worked at a local fitness club where he assisted with youth activities.
During his senior year in high school, he decided to attend the University of Missouri.
According to the lawsuit, Santulli was in cardiac arrest after being driven to the hospital by two fraternity members, his heart restarted using CPR.
The lawsuit alleges that as part of a hazing activity Oct. 19, Santulli was given a bottle of vodka he was expected to consume. When he asked to be allowed to stop, he was called a slang name for female genitalia. He continued to drink.
"By midnight, Daniel was severely intoxicated, passed out on the couch and by the time anyone attempted to assist him he had stopped breathing," a news release about the lawsuit states.
No one called 911, but the two fraternity members drove him to MU Hospital instead, the news release states.
He was admitted with alcohol poisoning, which the Mayo Clnic describes as "a serious — and sometimes deadly — consequence of drinking large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time. Drinking too much too quickly can affect your breathing, heart rate, body temperature and gag reflex and potentially lead to a coma and death."
Student protests at the Phi Gamma Delta house sprang up spontaneously when the student was hospitalized.
Santulli's parents have moved from their home in Minnesota to an apartment in Colorado near their son's hospital, Bianchi said.
"They're by his bedside every single day," Bianchi said. "It's a superhuman effort on the part of the parents."
Santulli has the best care, but how much he can progress remains a question, Bianchi said.
"His brain injury is permanent," Bianchi said. "How much progress he will be able to make remains to be seen."
There was no reason to sue the University of Missouri, he said. Only one time in his 30-year-plus legal career representing hazing victims has he sued a university.
"I didn't see any reason to sue the university here," Bianchi said. "It has an anti-hazing policy in place. It's unrealistic to think they would be babysitting every fraternity every day."
The lawsuit outlines Phi Gamma Delta's previous violations at MU.
Jan. 18, 2017, violation of university policies related to standards of conduct and alcohol distribution. An alcohol education program and disciplinary probation was the sanction.
Aug. 22, 2017, the same two violations, resulting in disciplinary probation and self-imposed sanctions.
Feb. 14, 2019, the same two violations again, resulting this time in an alcohol education program and an alcohol prevention program.
March 7, 2020, same two violations. Sanctions were an alcohol education program, a risk management meeting and individual disciplinary probation.
April 1, 2021, a hazing violation this time. It required monthly meetings with MU Fraternity and Sorority Life, conditions by the international fraternity and disciplinary probation for the fraternity.
Aug. 24, 2021, a return to violations of university standards of conduct policies and alcohol distribution violation, resulting in an alcohol education program and alcohol event probation.
"The case is one of the most tragic I've ever seen," Bianchi said. "It's just unimaginable this fraternity would have a situation like this after so many previous violations. They apparently didn't learn anything."
Rather than stopping the hazing and alcohol use, the fraternity put a lot of time and effort into continuing it, he said.
"As a result, Danny Santulli's life as he knew it is gone," Bianchi said.
The Phi Gamma Delta fraternity hasn't been the subject of any of his previous lawsuits, Bianchi said.
The University of Missouri removed its recognition of the fraternity after the incident based on its history of violations.
Several individual members of the fraternity are named as defendants in the lawsuit. Many are no longer in the MU online directory. Four who were didn't respond to emails from the Tribune seeking comment.
Rob Caudill, executive director of the national fraternity, released a statement of sympathy for Santulli and his family when the lawsuit was filed.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with Danny and the Santulli family during this difficult time," Caudill wrote. "We have received the civil complaint and are reviewing it. The chapter at the University of Missouri is suspended by the International Fraternity and we continue to provide support and cooperation when requested by local authorities as they pursue their investigation. We expect all chapters and members to follow the law and abide by the fraternity’s policies, which prohibit hazing and the provision of alcohol to minors."
The lawsuit is in its beginning stage and no hearing will be scheduled for some time, Bianchi said.
"We have now served most of the defendants," he said. "The defendants are now in the process of hiring lawyers."
With 23 defendants, Bianchi predicted a three-week trial if the case goes to trial.
This article originally appeared on Columbia Daily Tribune: Former Missouri student unable to speak, walk after alcohol poisoning