Soon, the Indiana Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the argument of a former Wabash student against Wabash College for injuries sustained during hazing incidents with his fraternity. The suit against Wabash College, and the on-school fraternity Phi Kappa Psi (otherwise known as Phi Psi), will hinge on whether either institution had the duty to ensure his safety.
In 2007, the victim had suffered his injuries when his fellow Phi Psi members attempted to force him into a shower. The ritual of “showering” is revealed to pledges through distributed information packets and pledges are encouraged to uphold these traditions. During the struggle to force the victim into the shower, he was choked to the point of unconsciousness and hit his head on the bathroom floor. The victim suffered severe brain damage.
This suit makes its way to the State Supreme Court after the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled (2-1) against the plaintiff citing his failure to prove that either Wabash or Phi Psi violated Indiana’s codified hazing law (IC § 34-30-2-150). The plaintiff will now bring his action to the Supreme Court under civil negligence liability attempting to prove the college was negligent in failing to protect him from the hazing – a “reasonably foreseeable” danger.
As of 2000, the college has had to deal with a slew of hazing incidences, including two student deaths in 2007 and 2008. And unlike other colleges who have faced similar hazing claims, Wabash University owns the fraternity house where the injuries occurred, and it was aware of previous incidents of fraternity abuse. The ownership status may place premise liability on Wabash, which would require Wabash to protect certain guests from “reasonably foreseeable” dangers.
This will be the first Indiana case to examine the civil liability and the duty of colleges in connection with hazing of their students.
Professor Andrew Klein of McKinney School of Law described the ramifications this case will have on schools. “Institutions are going to need to understand that there could be greater consequences for their failure to more actively engage in the behavior of institutions that are on university-owned property.”
Schools are taking notice, and actions are being taken to limit liability in the wake of hazing incidences. This lawsuit comes the same month that another Indiana institution is dealing with hazing. Indiana University in Bloomington has suspended a chapter of the Omega Psi Phi after reports of providing an unsafe environment resulting in numerous hazing incidences.
In 1997, the television show 20/20 exposed a hazing incident in which 3 sorority pledges at DePauw University suffered burns severe enough to send one girl to the hospital for her injuries. Those responsible on campus were not charged under Indiana hazing law but did receive a sentence of community service. And the victims and their families received a financial settlement from the sorority and the perpetrators of the hazing.
The Indianapolis personal injury attorneys at Parr Richey Obremskey Frandsen & Patterson are dedicated to providing knowledgeable and experienced representation for individuals who have suffered as a result of negligence. When a minor has been injured a claim may be brought on his behalf by a legal guardian. Our qualified attorneys can help navigate the issues of damage calculation, communication with insurance, evidence discovery, settlement negotiation, and litigation. If you or a loved one has suffered an injury, contact us today for your free consultation by calling (888) 532-7766 or online.
(photo credit: Wabash.edu)