North Carolina Appellate Court Dismisses Complaint Alleging that a Fraternity was Responsible for a Student’s Death in a Hazing-Related Incident

The media has covered several stories lately chronicling the dangers of hazing in fraternities and sororities. When students take initiation rituals too far, the consequences can be devastating for those involved. Although the police may investigate potential charges against the individuals responsible for the injuries that result, the victim and his or her loved ones may have a civil claim to recover compensation for their injuries.

In a recent case, the North Carolina Court of Appeals considered an unfortunate situation in which a student died while at the apartment of another student. The victim was a pledge of a local fraternity chapter and his estate brought a claim against the fraternity and other individuals alleging that the victim lost his life as a direct result of the fraternity’s failure to protect the victim from the dangers of hazing-related activities.

The fraternity moved for summary judgment and the trial court granted the motion on the basis that the plaintiff failed to plead facts showing that the victim’s death was the foreseeable cause of the fraternity’s conduct. The victim’s estate appealed.

On review, the court reviewed evidence in the record regarding the fraternity’s connection to or duty to prevent the death of the victim. It ultimately affirmed the lower court’s decision, finding that there was a lack of evidence in the record showing that the fraternity’s acts or omissions caused the victim’s head injury. The court concluded that evidence showing that the victim had suffered other injuries, including bruising on his legs and buttocks, it did not explain how he sustained a head injury. The appellate court also rejected the plaintiff’s suggestion that prior incidences of hazing including forcing pledges to engage in strenuous exercise did not implicate the fraternity in the alleged accident.

The appellate court also relied heavily on the fact that there were no fraternity events scheduled on the night that the victim, unfortunately, lost his life. Ultimately, the court concluded that the victim’s estate did not offer any evidence showing how the victim suffered a head trauma or supporting the estate’s position that the fraternity was in some way responsible for the accident or that it resulted from hazing-related activities.

Finally, the court rejected allegations from the plaintiff that the other students engaged in spoliation of evidence in allegedly deleting text messages and photographs from the victim’s cell phone and computer following his death. The students who deleted the material indicated that they did so to protect the fraternity and to delete evidence that the university may consider hazing. The students did not indicate that they were deleting evidence on behalf of the national fraternity.

If you or someone you love was injured in a hazing-related incident or due to another person’s negligence, you may be entitled to compensation. At Maurer Law, our personal injury lawyers understand how difficult sudden and painful injury accidents can be for you and your loved ones. We offer a free consultation to help you learn more about the legal system and whether we can assist you with asserting your rights. To schedule your appointment call us at 844-817-8058 or contact us online.