Mom files lawsuit blaming Eckerd College for daughter’s death

Pinellas County

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) – The mother of a late college student is blaming the school for her daughter’s death, according to a lawsuit obtained by 8 On Your Side.

Tampa Attorney Dale Swope filed suit against Eckerd College on Elaine Burgher’s behalf in October. Burgher’s daughter, Rebecca Lavin-Burgher, died after falling from a ladder on campus.

Swope says the fall happened on May 20, 2018 – graduation day.

He says Rebecca had been drinking, entered a theater building on campus and started scaling the ladder to get on the roof. Swope says it’s a tradition at the school to watch the sunrise on graduation day from the roofs of campus buildings.

Rebecca lost her balance and fell more than 30 feet.

Swope believes if the doors to the building had been locked or the roof hatch secured, students would be discouraged from such activity. But he says the doors were open and so was the hatch.

“It was not locked because people have a tradition of going onto this roof,” said Swope. “While they may say or publish nobody goes onto the roof, the door was completely unlocked. The latch was completely unlocked. When Rebecca got there, there were already a half dozen people on the roof.”

The suit also claims the school condones drug use and encourages drinking on campus. For that, Swope says the college has garnered quite the reputation nationwide.

“Rated number 12 in the top druggiest schools. Number ten by a magazine, called ‘Reefer Madness,'” Swope said. “Former students say, you know I’ve been to other colleges where there were drugs and it was tolerated. But it’s different. At Eckerd, it’s not tolerated – it’s encouraged.”

RELATED STORY: Tampa Bay colleges have reputation for party culture, Eckerd College now facing lawsuit

The lawsuit does not specify a certain dollar amount for damages, other than in excess of $15,000. But Swope believes the suit is more about changing the culture at the school and preventing future deaths.

“Nothing we can do is going to bring Rebecca back,” said Swope. “Nobody here is trying to undo the past. The money isn’t going to change anyone’s lives. We’re not trying to punish Eckerd. We’re not trying to shut the school down. We just want to make it safe.”

Eckerd College released the following statement:

“We have received the lawsuit and read the claims made by the attorneys for the estate of Rebecca Lavin-Burgher on behalf of her grieving family. We take these allegations seriously and are working with our attorneys to respond to each claim. While there are many errors of fact included in the filing, we will respond in due time during the legal proceedings.”

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Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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