Tragedy struck recently at Florida State University when a 20-year-old Pi Kappa Phi pledge was found unresponsive the morning after a fraternity-sponsored event, reports CNN. The cause of the civil engineering major’s death is not yet known but the Tallahassee Police Department has stated that their preliminary investigation suggests that alcohol may have been a contributing factor. In order to determine what happened the police have interviewed over 50 people and will conduct an autopsy. The outcome of this investigation is critical as the resulting police report will undoubtedly be used to determine what, if any, criminal charges will be filed. Additionally, the report will also likely prove to be a key piece of evidence if the family of the deceased co-ed decides to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
Theories of Liability in Greek Life Cases
While individual fraternity and sorority members, as well as the fraternities and sororities that they belong to, are consistently named in Greek life personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits you may be surprised to learn that the universities that host these organizations can also be held liable under some circumstances. An informative article from the Journal of Contemporary Health Law and Policy discusses the various legal theories under which universities can be held accountable in Greek life injury cases, including the following:
- Assumed Duty From a Special Relationship: When a school assumes responsibility for the safety of their students, it may also be assuming liability in the event that one of their students ends up getting hurt.
- Premises Liability: If the university owns the fraternity/sorority house or the property on which the injurious incident occurred then it may be held accountable under a premises liability theory of negligence if it can be shown that the university failed to take reasonable steps in order to protect the injured student from a danger that was not open or obvious. However, this duty generally only extends to protecting students from foreseeable acts committed by third parties that are under the university’s control.
- Social Policy: Some universities have also been held liable under a social policy theory of negligence based on the fact that they exercised some measure of control over a fraternity/sorority, were aware of prior hazing incidents involving these organization, and yet failed to prevent the subsequent hazing incident at hand. Because these universities failed to step in and take the measures necessary to end Greek hazing when such instances were brought to their attention they may have opened themselves up to liability.
Contact a Local Personal Injury Attorney
Need legal advice about filing a personal injury lawsuit or wrongful death claim in Florida? If so, the experienced personal injury lawyers of Piccin & Glynn, Attorneys at Law are here to help. One of our knowledgeable attorneys would be happy to review the facts of your case during a free initial consultation and provide you with their assessment of your legal options. To schedule a meeting contact our Ocala office today at 352-558-8480.