Although many people view college fraternities as harmless social groups that occasionally “get out of hand” with their initiations and parties, a closer review of the conduct of fraternities reveals some of these organizations have a history of “pushing the limits” of socially-acceptable behavior on the part of their members. In this post our fraternity hazing lawyer will present a summary of our findings from our fraternity misconduct database demonstrating disturbing facts regarding the behavior of some college fraternities.
In 2017, there were four deaths that were directly linked to fraternity misconduct and 156 reported incidents that led to at least a temporary suspension of a fraternity’s privileges at the host school, a formal suspension of the fraternity’s local or national charter, or the fraternity’s permanent closure and expulsion from campus. Of those 156 publicly-reported incidents, the following 10 fraternities were responsible for 69 (44%) of the confirmed disciplinary actions taken.
Piazza, a 19-year-old sophomore civil engineering major, was forced to consume 18 alcoholic beverages over a 90-minute period. Later that same evening, he fell head first down a stairway leading to the fraternity house basement. After Piazza was discovered the next morning, fraternity members did not summon EMS and rescue personnel until at least 3 hours later. Piazza died the following day and the fraternity was later expelled from the Penn State campus. Piazza’s death also prompted Penn State to issue strict new guidelines concerning fraternity and sorority activities.
After an investigation, 26 fraternity members were charged with various criminal offenses including involuntary manslaughter, serving alcohol to a minor, and assault. A local judge dismissed all criminal charges against the individual fraternity members, but state prosecutors are appealing that decision. The Piazza family later filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the fraternity, Penn State, and the 26 fraternity members whose initial criminal charges had been dismissed.
Maxwell Gruver, an 18-year-old freshman, was forced to drink alcoholic beverages as punishment for incorrectly answering questions about the history of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity. An autopsy later revealed that Gruver’s blood alcohol concentration was 0.495, five times the level required to prove a presumed driving while intoxicated charge in Louisiana. A grand jury later indicted 10 individuals, including 8 LSU students, on various criminal charges and LSU ordered that Phi Delta Theta was to be suspended from campus for 15 years.
Coffey, a 20-year-old junior at Florida State, died after being forced to consume a fifth of Wild Turkey bourbon during an off-campus fraternity party. An autopsy revealed that his blood alcohol concentration was 0.447, four and a half times the driving while intoxicated limit in Florida. A grand jury eventually indicted 9 members of Pi Kappa Phi for their involvement in Coffey’s death and Florida State later ordered a moratorium on all fraternity and sorority new member recruitment and social activities.
The 20-year-old sophomore was found unresponsive after an off-campus fraternity initiation event. An investigation into his death is ongoing, but local police state that alcohol appears to have been a factor in Ellis’s death.
If your son was injured in a fraternity hazing incident, you and your child have the legal right to demand compensation from the fraternity, the host school, and the fraternity’s national headquarters. This right is based on the following principles:
1) Fraternity hazing is a criminal offense in every state except Alaska, Hawaii, Montana, New Mexico, South Dakota, and Wyoming. Thus, any organized fraternity hazing activity is inherently illegal in most jurisdictions and subject to both criminal and civil actions against the responsible fraternity.
2) The host school has the legal and moral obligation to monitor the actions of each recognized fraternity. If a fraternity engages in hazing, the host school has failed in that duty and is therefore liable for any damages that are the result of hazing.
3) Each fraternity’s national headquarters has published guidelines of conduct that all local fraternity chapters are expected to follow. Since all national organizations have written policies than ban organized hazing at the chapter level, hazing incidents are a sign that the national organization has failed to monitor the actions of the local chapter and is also liable for any damages that may have occurred.
In summary, fraternity hazing is both a crime and a civil wrong. Those who may have been injured or suffered some loss due tofraternity hazing should contact an experienced fraternity hazing lawyer to explore the legal options that may be available to those injured in such incidents as well as to their families.
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