A reporter for The Atlantic recently spent a year delving into the “Dark Power of Fraternities” on college campuses. This investigation involved not only the way that universities use these organizations to market college as a “party” to students soon-to-be-saddled with enormous debt, but also the power these operations wield in the legal sphere when serious problems arise.
Cases of injury resulting from hazing and excessive alcohol consumption at college fraternities in recent years have been numerous. Just recently, the case of Yost v. Wabash College was heard before the Indiana Supreme Court, after a fraternity brother tried to sue the school, the local and national chapters of the fraternity and one of his “brothers” for a hazing incident that left him with serious and permanent brain damage. The court upheld only his right to pursue the claim against the local fraternity chapter and the fellow fraternity brother.
Our Fort Lauderdale injury lawyers recognize that on-campus Greek organizations can be an incredibly positive experience for many students. However, when injuries or illnesses do occur as a result of negligence by the organization or school leadership, victims must be prepared to put up a fight. These organizations often have a considerable amount of influence, power and resources.
This certainly doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pursue a claim against them. However, you should be prepared. As The Atlantic article notes: “Sending a lawyer without special (experience) in wrangling with fraternities to sue one of them is like sending a Boy Scout to sort out the unpleasantness in Afghanistan.”
According to a recent report by Bloomberg News, there have been more than 60 people – mostly students – killed in incidents linked to fraternities. The number of serious injuries, sexual cries and assaults that occur in connection with these facilities is much, much higher.
Most lawsuits stemming from these incidents are settled in confidential agreements prior to the trial phase. In most cases, it’s not the facts that are in question, but rather who should be assigned liability.
In the Yost case, the victim was targeted by a hazing practice known as “showering,” in which the victim is forcibly held under a running shower stream fully clothed. However, many of the participants were drinking. One of his brothers held him in the shower in a headlock until he passed out. He was then dropped, and struck his head on the tile, causing permanent and serious injuries.
Yost asserted that the fraternity had a responsibility to control its members and that, as a landlord, the university had a responsibility to protect the plaintiff from reasonably foreseeable tortious and criminal activity. He also claimed that the school was vicariously liable for the members of the fraternity.
However, the state supreme court granted a summary judgment in favor of the national chapter of the fraternity and the university, holding that these two entities did not owe the duty of care to the plaintiff that he had asserted.
While most fraternities carry liability insurance, that coverage may be limited and members can be dropped for pretty much any reason. Many times, fraternity members’ legal addresses are considered to be that of their parents – even if they are living in the fraternity house. This means that liability insurance would fall under the parents’ homeowners’ insurance.
A 2010 analysis of liability claims made against fraternity insurers indicates that:
–23 percent involve assault and battery;
–15 percent are for sexual assault;
–10 percent are from slip-and-fall;
–9 percent are fall from heights;
–7 percent are from auto accidents;
–7 percent are from hazing.
In some of these cases, comparative negligence will become an issue, and defendants will often vigorously attempt to assert that plaintiffs in fact carried the burden of the negligence in the case.
In addition to this, fraternities have a number of other ways of working to reduce liability. In some cases, they have institutionalized the concept of “bring your own beer,” thereby reducing potential liability for serving to alcohol to minors or serving too much, resulting in injury.
For those who have suffered injury in connection with fraternity house activities, it’s imperative to speak to a personal injury attorney as soon as possible.
Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.
Yost v. Wabash College, Feb. 13, 2014, Indiana Supreme Court
The Business Of Frats: Shifting Liability For Trauma And Injury, Feb. 25, 2014, Morning Edition, NPR
The Dark Power of Fraternities, Feb. 19, 2014, By Caitlin Flanagan, The Atlantic
More Blog Entries:
Florida School Liability for Child Injuries, Jan. 26, 2014, Fort Lauderdale Personal Injury Lawyer Blog