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Alcohol And Fraternities -- Filing A Wrongful Death Lawsuit May Be Your Best Recourse When Things Go Terribly Wrong

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Fraternities have been in the news a lot recently -- mostly for the wrong reasons. Behavior that was once widely accepted as just part of the fraternity experience is now being examined under a much harsher spotlight. From hazing to racist behavior to allegations of widespread rape, fraternities have had to seriously re-think the way they conduct themselves. Unfortunately, some fraternity -- and sorority -- chapters are still willing to risk it all. And, in some instances, the thing they put at risk is a person's life or health. So what should you do if your child is injured or killed because of the actions of members of a fraternity? Specifically, should you pursue legal recourse with a wrongful death attorney if your child was injured or killed while drinking because of a fraternity's actions? 

 Drinking and Hazing

According to Cornell University, drinking alcohol is often a "central or contributing" element of hazing. Of course, drinking and hazing are not just a Cornell University problem. There have been numerous reports throughout the nation about drinking, hazing and the sometimes terrible consequences that can result from the combination of the two. In May 2013, for example, a freshman at Northern Illinois University (NIU) died of alcohol poisoning after attending a pledge party. His blood-alcohol level was discovered to be five times the legal driving limit. To make matters worse, no one who was at the party helped the freshman once they discovered that he had passed out. 

Making Fraternities and Universities Accountable

Unfortunately, incidents like this are not rare.  According to Bloomberg Business, more than 60 students have died during fraternity-related activities -- most of which have been alcohol and hazing related -- since 2005. Plus, there have been many more alcohol-related hazing incidents where students have been seriously injured.  With so many injuries and deaths, it's not surprising that universities are cracking down on fraternities by closing down or suspending offending chapters. In addition, some parents are also filing unlawful death suits against those they feel are responsible. For example: 

  • In the NIU incident, the parents of the student who died brought a wrongful death suit against the fraternity, Pi Kappa Alpha and 22 of its members as well as some members of a sorority that had attended the party where the hazing had occurred.
  • In 2011, the mother of a Cornell University student sued Sigma Alpha Epsilon for wrongful death after her son died of alcohol poisoning while being hazed. She claimed that her son was forced to drink alcohol until his blood alcohol content was five times the legal driving limit. 

What You Should Expect if You File a Lawsuit

Proving a wrongful death lawsuit against a fraternity and/or a university can be difficult. That is why it's important to hire a lawyer who is experienced in these types of cases. For example, your lawyer may need to prove that your child:

  • Was forced to drink the alcohol. Lawyers for the defendants will work hard to prove that your child willingly drank the alcohol on their own. 
  • Did not have a history of binge drinking before the incident. Again, the defense is going to try to prove that your child had a reputation as a drinker. 
  • Died because of the negligence of the fraternity members. For example, did they refuse aid to your child? 

And if you file a suit against the university, your lawyer will have to prove that the institution was aware of the fraternity's actions and had been turning a blind eye to its behavior.

Although filing an unlawful death suit will not bring your child back to you, it could possibly save the lives of others by forcing the fraternity and university to make changes that will eliminate dangerous alcohol-related practices.