Greek Life and Wrongful Death
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Who is liable when a fraternity or sorority member dies at the fraternity/sorority house?
The family of a Texas A&M University student who died as a result of an overdose recently filed suit against the Sigma Nu fraternity house. In the wrongful death lawsuit, the family of the deceased student named the fraternity itself and several of its members as defendants. Anton Gridnev was found dead inside the Sigma Nu chapter house. Investigations revealed several drugs in his system. Frat members allegedly failed to respond to Gridnev’s overdose in a timely manner, which Gridnev’s family feels lead to his death.
Overdoses at Fraternity and Sorority Houses
Sadly, Gridnev’s overdose while at his fraternity house is far from unusual. Just three months after Gridnev’s death, another college student at Texas A&M similarly died as the result of an overdose of drugs or alcohol. The student was a member of a different fraternity at A&M. Authorities report that house members thought he was sleeping, only to find him dead later on.
These instances raise some important questions as to how much legal responsibility a fraternity or sorority should hold for the actions of its members. Are other Greek life members expected to respond immediately to potential medical emergencies among members? What if the fraternity or sorority house was supposed to be dry?
Wrongful death cases involving overdoses among college students are complex and will often turn on the specific facts surrounding the incident. Liability could arise in cases where the deceased college student’s family can show frat or sorority members pressured the student to consume drugs or alcohol that later resulted in death or failed to take action when a frat member was in obvious medical distress.
Hazing Related Deaths
Along with overdoses, college students involved in Greek life sometimes die as a result of hazing. At least one pledge has died each year since 1969, and many years this figure is far higher. In one recent incident, a young pledge out of Penn State died from internal trauma following a pledge event. It is alleged that 18 older brothers of Beta Theta Pi forced the now deceased student to drink an excessive amount of alcohol. Video footage showed them prodding the injured pledge and failing to call for medical help.
While most campuses across the nation have called for an end to hazing, the illegal practice is still ongoing, mainly in fraternities. Fraternities, frat members, and potentially even colleges may be held legally responsible for the death of a member if the family of the deceased pledge can prove hazing lead to his or her death.