Caroselli, Beachler & Coleman, L.L.C.

Wrongful death case planned in alleged Pennsylvania hazing death

Hazing takes advantage of a young person's desire to be accepted by peers. The rite of passage to join groups can be abusive, sexually-oriented, humiliating and even life-threatening. According to a study released by the National Collaborative for Hazing Research and Prevention, over half of all college students in student organizations have undergone hazing. Forty-seven percent experienced hazing even before reaching college.

A 19-year-old college student may have died at the hands of a fraternity in December. The young man's death took place in Pennsylvania, while the Baruch College freshman and fraternity members were staying at a house in the Poconos. The teen reportedly suffered fatal head injuries during a brutal pledge "gauntlet."

Court records said the male first-year student and other pledges were blindfolded and forced to wear backpacks weighed down by sand. The victim was knocked unconscious, after pledges were tackled multiple times by Pi Delta Psi members. Fraternity members did not call for emergency help but drove the pledge to a hospital, after an hour's delay.

Investigators said fraternity members evaded questions about the student's injury. An affidavit stated the person assigned to be the pledge's "big brother" phoned other Pi Delta Psi members from the hospital and advised them to destroy any fraternity identification. Police later searched the rented home and seized drugs and evidence linking the occupants to the fraternity.

The victim's family is waiting for criminal charges to be filed and defendants to be named, before proceeding with a wrongful death claim. Investigators apparently have not finished interviewing potential witnesses. Baruch College and Pi Delta Psi's national organization have banned the local fraternity and disavowed knowledge about the group's Pennsylvania retreat.

Civil courts assess claims for injuries caused by recklessness and negligence. Fault and financial responsibility may be divided, proportionately or disproportionately, among defendants or, in some circumstances, between defendants and injury victims.

Source: NBC News, "Family of NYC College Hazing Victim Plans to Sue" Tracy Connor, Feb. 20, 2014

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