Fraternities and sororities are promoted as a way for college students to make friends, get more involved on campus and give back by participating in various charities or public service opportunities.
Unfortunately, there are some chapters that have taken to converting new pledges into their own personal punching bags through ritual – and largely accepted – hazing. Such practices – which range from encouragement of immense alcohol consumption to subjection to physical assault – are not only personally degrading, they have in some cases been known to result in serious injuries – and even death.
Just recently at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a fraternity was suspended over allegations of possible hazing that involved “alcohol violations and inappropriate new-member activities.”
Our Asheville personal injury lawyers would point out that hazing, as defined in N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-35, is against the law. Hazing is considered to be any activity that involves subjecting another student to physical injury as a part of initiation or as a prerequisite to membership of any organized school group. Violation is a Class 2 misdemeanor, meaning it’s punishable by up to two months in jail, though penalties could be worse if serious injury results.
In those cases, civil action may also be appropriate.
That’s what was initiated in the recent case of Yost v. Wabash College, which was reviewed by the Indiana Supreme Court. This was an important case because it was the first in the state to examine what responsibility colleges and fraternities have to protect students from hazing.
Like North Carolina, Indiana considers hazing a criminal act.
While the legal questions in this case abound – including the question of whether the plaintiff was in fact a victim of hazing – there is little dispute regarding the actions that happened on the night in question, back in September 2007.
At the time, the plaintiff was living in a college-owned fraternity house and had received a pledge package that included information on two ritual practices “showering” and “creeking.” The latter involves throwing a fraternity member who turns 21 into a nearby creek. The former involves forcing a fully-dressed pledge into the shower.
On this occasion, the plaintiff was “showered.” As the plaintiff thrashed about, he was placed in a choke hold and held under water. He lost consciousness. The other members panicked and dropped him, causing his head to slam onto the floor. They did not call an ambulance for him to receive treatment. He suffered permanent brain damage as a result.
The plaintiff later filed an injury lawsuit against the school, the fraternity’s local campus chapter, the national affiliate and the fraternity brother who choked him.
In a ruling this month, the Indiana Supreme Court effectively dismissed the case against the college and the national fraternity chapter, as the court granted those entities a summary judgment in their favor. However, there were disputes regarding genuine issues of material facts that precluded a summary judgment in favor of the local fraternity and the individual fraternity brother, which means the case against those two will be allowed to proceed.
Victims of hazing should contact our Asheville personal injury lawyers at Lee Law Offices today by calling 800-887-1965.
Yost v. Wabash College, Feb. 13, 2014, Indiana Supreme Court
Suit raises questions about who polices fraternity hazing, April 17, 2013, By Tim Evans, The Indianapolis Star
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