In an opinion released earlier this year, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled that the local chapter of a fraternity at an Indiana college may be financially liable for the damages allegedly incurred by a student while he was a pledge for the fraternity. In the same opinion, the Court held that the college itself and the national fraternity organization could not be held liable for the injuries.
An Incident of Hazing
The plaintiff in Yost v College, Ind Supreme Court, 2014 (No. 54S01-1303-CT-161.), was a freshman at Wabash College and a pledge at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity. On September 4, 2007, he was placed in a headlock by other fraternity brothers and held under a shower. The plaintiff lost consciousness, and the other fraternity members holding him dropped him, inflicting a head injury. After the hazing incident, the plaintiff filed an Indiana personal injury lawsuit against the individuals that hazed him, the local fraternity chapter, the national fraternity, and the college itself. The plaintiff argued that the college and fraternity organizations had a duty to prevent the type of conduct that caused his injury.
The Court’s First Decision
When the case was first filed, the college and fraternity organizations argued that they had no duty to prevent negligence or criminal activity that occurred in the hazing event. The plaintiff argued that the college and local fraternity had the duty of a landlord to protect him from reasonably foreseeable negligent or criminal activity. The trial court decided that the plaintiff had consented to the “horseplay,” and that his injuries were cause of the one fraternity brother negligently or criminally causing him to lose consciousness. As a result of this ruling, the cases against the college and two fraternity organizations were thrown out, although the plaintiff’s case against the one “fraternity brother” that caused him to lose consciousness was allowed to continue.
The First Appeal
The plaintiff appealed the dismissal of his claims against the college and fraternity organizations to the Indiana Court of Appeals On appeal, he argued that the college and fraternity organizations assumed a duty to protect him from hazing and related injuries by promulgating anti-hazing policies He also argued that the college had the duty of a landlord, and that they should have foreseen the risk of injury from having fraternities on campus that are permitted to participate in “hazing” or like activities. The Court of Appeals rejected all of these arguments and ruled that the plaintiff was not a victim of “hazing” or any other foreseeable criminal activity, and again, that the wrongful conduct of the one fraternity brother that hurt the plaintiff is not the responsibility of the college or the fraternity organizations.
Appeal to the Indiana Supreme Court
The Plaintiff then appealed the case to the Indiana Supreme Court. The Court agreed with the lower courts’ reasoning regarding the liability of the college and the national fraternity organization, but found differently for the case against the fraternity chapter. The Supreme Court found that because the plaintiff was living at the fraternity, participating in traditions of the local fraternity, and subject to the mentorship of a “pledge father” from the local fraternity, that the pledge program was partially under control of the local fraternity. The Court ruled that the plaintiff should be able to argue, at trial, that he relied on the supervision of the local fraternity and that the local chapter assumed a duty to reduce harm to pledges, like the plaintiff. As a result of this finding, the lower courts’ rulings were reversed, and the plaintiff’s case against the local chapter may proceed to trial.
Have You Been Injured in an Indiana Accident?
If you have been injured by another person or organization’s negligent, reckless, or criminal conduct, you may be entitled to financial damages for your loss or injuries. It is not always only one person’s responsibility when an injury occurs, and often larger organizations or corporations may additionally be responsible for compensation. The personal injury lawyers at Parr, Richey, Obremskey, Frandsen and Patterson represent clients in a variety of personal injury cases, including assaults and cases involving vicarious liability. If you have been injured, call us today and discuss your case free of charge. Call 888-532-7766 or access our website to speak to an experienced attorney.
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