Protect Your College Student: Wrongful Death in Fraternity Hazing

Published on August 3rd, 2018

wrongful death fraternity hazingParents have plenty of worries about sending their child off to college. Wrongful death is usually not one of them. One family, however, is living through such a nightmare. Timothy Piazza was a 19-year-old sophomore and fraternity pledge at Penn State University when he died in February 2017 after drinking large quantities of alcohol in his first night of pledging at Beta Theta Pi fraternity. Piazza had an incredibly high blood alcohol content and suffered a traumatic brain injury caused by several falls, including down a set of stairs.

One of the fraternity brothers, Ryan Burke, pled guilty to four counts of hazing Piazza and five counts related to unlawful acts involving liquor. He originally faced charges of involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, simple assault, and reckless endangerment of another person.

Burke was sentenced to three months of house arrest, 27 months of probation, 100 hours of community service, and was given a $1,000 fine. Perhaps a light sentence in the wake of the loss of another young man’s life? Burke, though, was not the only person involved in the hazing. Twenty other young men face trial next year for their role in this horrific situation in a frat that was supposed to be alcohol-free.

Why Hazing?

There are different forms of initiation into groups. Fraternities and sororities are well-known for their initiation rites, often categorized as hazing. The behavior is justified by members as a bonding ritual for new members of the organization. Many hazing rituals, however, are so extreme that they lead to serious injury and even death.

Alcohol poisoning can be a result of hazing, but there can also be emotional tolls, like anxiety, depression, or other disturbances. Physical injuries aren’t far behind. “This was no accident. Tim was killed,” said Jim Piazza, Tim’s father. “It was a well-planned, well-orchestrated initiation ritual with the objective of feeding the pledges excessive and potentially lethal amounts of alcohol in a short period of time. The group of fraternity members were playing Russian roulette with the pledges. Tim just happened to catch the bullet.”

The Consequences of Hazing

Piazza’s parents asked for stricter laws against hazing in their emotional victim impact statements during Burke’s sentencing. “Please help make hazing recognized for what it is – abuse, cruelty, and torture,” says Evelyn Piazza.

Burke’s attorney disputed that Tim made free choices to go to the event and drink. However, even if the hazing victim gave their consent to undergo the initiation ritual, the person who committed the hazing is still legally responsible for injuries or death and can face a civil lawsuit for wrongful death or negligence. Also liable are the individual members of the frat who caused the injury, leaders of the fraternity, and the school officials and national fraternity officials who did not enforce anti-hazing rules or properly govern the organization.

Hazing Should Not Go Unnoticed

If your child has been injured or lost their life because of hazing, you may have a case against the people who are responsible for the hazing, as well as the institution that is home to the fraternity or sorority. Contact Thurswell Law for a free consultation. Our personal injury attorneys have the experience to get you the compensation you deserve. We do not charge any fees unless you collect. Call (248) 354-2222 today to schedule your consultation.

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