Wrongful Death from Hazing Incidents at College Sororities and Fraternities

October 29, 2012

Auto Accidents, Wrongful Death

wrongful death from hazing at colleges and universitiesA wrongful death suit has been filed against an East Carolina University (ECU) sorority by the mother of Victoria Carter, who is claiming hazing played a role in the death of her 20-year-old daughter in 2010, the News Observer of Raleigh, NC reports..

Victoria was killed in a single car crash at the end of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority’s  “Hell Week.”  She was a passenger and one of four occupants of a car driven by another pledge, Kamil Arrington.  Arrington went off the road and slammed into a tree in Greenville, NC about 6:30 a.m. on November 20, 2010.  A second pledge in the car Briana Gather, also 20, of Kernersville, NC died the next day.  A fourth pledge and Arrington survived.

Bernadette Carter originally filed her civil suit against Arrington, but recently added sorority members to the list of defendants. Arrington pleaded guilty to two counts of misdemeanor death by vehicle in 2011.  The sorority has been placed on probation by the national chapter until at least 2015.

The wrongful death lawsuit charges that the driver was suffering from “excessive and overwhelming fatigue, exhaustion and sleep deprivation” and “fell asleep behind the wheel.” The sorority members were to blame for the hazing that played a role in the fatal incident, Mrs. Carter contends.

Among the activities Carter and 16 other pledges were forced to endure were living together in a two-bedroom, two-bathroom dwelling for several weeks and performing certain grueling physical feats.  They were required to spend long hours preparing for “probate,” a ceremony in which the sorority makes a public showing of new members.

The hours before the fatal accident, the pledges had been perfecting “the probate death march,” the suit alleges, and the girls had no opportunity to sleep after practicing.

The family’s attorney, John McCabe, stated “no amount of money will bring Victoria back.  What they really want is to change the culture (hazing practices).”

Recorded incidents of hazing, initiation and pledging-related accidents can be traced to the early 1800’s.  Professor and author, Hank Nuwer has chronicled 163 incidents from 1838 to the present, although university and college officials, and even family members, sometimes deny hazing actually occurred.  In addition, it is believed 95 percent of hazing and similar happenings are not reported.

Of the 137 deaths since 1940 recorded by Nuwer, 30 percent were alcohol-related.  About 20 percent were auto accidents and 11 percent were drownings. Ten of those who died were killed during “dropoffs” (person is taken some place unfamiliar and abandoned) and another 10 individuals expired from heat stroke or heart failure from overexertion.  Males were far more likely to die in these types of incidents than females.

Since 2000, by Nuwer’s count, there have been 41 deaths attributed to hazing-type incidents.  This averages more than three such deaths a year.

Young people have died in some bizarre ways in these initiation rituals.  One boy choked when forced to eat a slab of liver (1959—Kappa Sigma pledge at University of Southern California).   Another 19-year-old pledge suffocated, entombed in a grave on the beach that he had been told to dig by his Zeta Beta Tau “brothers” (1974—MonmouthCollege in New Jersey).  Still another was impaled on a bayonet during a stunt designed to intimidate him (1976—St. John’s University, New York).  Others have committed suicide following a hazing as did Ben Klein who was pledging Zeta Beta Tau at AlfredUniversity in New York in 2002 and was beaten after revealing information about hazing rituals in the fraternity.

In Ohio, the state hazing law is found in Ohio Revised Code section 2307.44.  Briefly, it states that any person subjected to hazing may file a civil action for injuries or damages against any participant or any organization that authorized, requested, commanded or tolerated the activity. The negligence of the plaintiff and assumption of the risk are not defenses in Ohio in these cases.

Wrongful death occurs when a decedent’s death is caused by a wrongful act, neglect, or default of another.  The deceased party would have been entitled to maintain the action  against the person responsible for the death, if the decedent had survived.

The wrongful death claim must be brought within two years of the date of the death.  Only a person who is the personal representative of the decedent may bring the claim—this is usually a surviving spouse, or the parents or children of the decedent.  The representative brings the action in their own name, on behalf of the deceased.  If the claim is ultimately successful, the proceeds are split between the beneficiaries of the decedent according to their blood relation (consanguinity) to the deceased.

Many wrongful death claims stem from vehicular accidents or incidents like those described in this article, but it is also possible to file wrongful death suits when a loved one has died in an explosion accident or as a result of product failure.

Ohio has a comparative negligence law which may permit the family of the deceased to recover damages even if the victim was partially at fault in the wrongful death.

Dealing with the wrongful death of one dear to you is always difficult because nothing can replace that person.  If you have any questions about the nature of the death of your family member, please don’t hesitate to contact Slater & Zurz, LLP for a free consultation at 1-888-353-0379 to make certain that you are adequately represented and to insure compensation for damages you may have sustained in the loss of your loved one.

You can also send a message from the Slater & Zurz LLP Ohio wrongful death website at ohiowrongfuldeathlaw.com.  Feel free to include any questions that you may have, or request a time to talk to one of our attorneys experienced with Ohio wrongful death cases.

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About slaterzurz

Slater & Zurz LLP is an Ohio law firm of highly experienced and respected attorneys. Over the last 40 years, we have developed a reputation for getting positive results for clients. We've been trusted with handling over 20,000 personal injury cases and our clients have received more than $120,000,000.

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