Fraternity Hazing Death Results in Lawsuit...



Personal Injury Case Study

Fraternity hazing stories have become almost legendary for their outrageousness. Unfortunatey, as demonstrated in this wrongful death case example, fraternity initiation practices are often dangerous and can ruin lives. Here we discuss important legal issues in the case including the incident, liability, injuries, negotiations, and the final case resolution.

The Incident...

Drew's fraternity started the pledging process whereby they initiated a new group of young men into the fraternity. As part of pledging, the young men were required to drink large sums of alcohol, do embarrassing things in public and go out scantily clad in inclement weather.

On the evening in question, Drew (who weighed 150 pounds and was 5'9") drank 16 beers and 3 shots of tequila. He was then required to go outside in the middle of winter when it was 20 degrees wearing nothing but boxer shorts. After 5 minutes, Drew began banging on the door asking to be let back inside the warmth of the fraternity, but the fraternity members refused, due in part to their own drunkenness.

Drew was too intoxicated to summon help elsewhere and passed out in the snow not three feet from the front door of the fraternity. Drew was not discovered until the next morning at which time he had already been deceased for at least three hours.

Liability...

Initially, criminal charges were brought against 3 out of 37 fraternity members since they were considered the master-minds behind this fraternity hazing ritual. That night, 6 additional pledges had to be rushed to the local emergency room for alcohol poisoning. However, the district attorney declined to press charges when it was discovered that Drew continued drinking and was not coaxed into doing so by anyone.

It was further revealed that Drew was a binge drinker. Without being able to tie his intoxication to the fraternity brothers, the district attorney felt that it could be argued that he died of natural causes.

This did not stop Drew's family from filing a lawsuit for wrongful death against the university, the fraternity and the three fraternity brothers involved. The basis was that the university knew about the dangerous fraternity hazing practices and failed to do anything about them (such as reprimand or suspend the fraternities).

The fraternity also knew and in fact supported these practices and had written policies and procedures allowing for such pledging rituals. The boys were charged with being grossly negligent for providing excessive alcohol and most importantly, for failing to let Drew in and render aid to him. Though the law states there is no affirmative duty to rescue, if you create the peril, there is.

Injuries...

Drew died of alcohol poisoning and hypothermia.

Negotiations...

The University argued that it did not know about the fraternity initiation practices and, as a private organization not affiliated with the school, they did not have any authority to sanction their behavior.

The fraternity argued that it, too did not know anything about the abuse of alcohol and declined to accept liability for the death. The three boys sued were all 22 years old with literally no assets. Drew's parents hired an attorney who filed a wrongful death lawsuit against all parties involved.

Final Settlement...

The University settled with Drew's family for an undisclosed sum of money with the provision that that they would open an alcohol rehabilitation facility for University students in Drew's name and shut down the fraternity.

The fraternity filed for bankruptcy and did not pay any settlement.

The three boys had judgments against them for $100,000 each that remained on their credit for the next 10 years.

Important Points...

  • Settlements can be financial, but they can also bring about pro-active change such as the alcohol rehabilitation clinic and shutting down the fraternity.

  • Even if a person does not have any resources, they can still have a judgment entered against them which can be detrimental.

  • Bankruptcy can be a limitation to collection in a personal injury lawsuit.

  • Even though a party is charged in criminal court, one can still pursue them in civil court for wrongful death.

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