Named parties:

  • Sigma Chi Fraternity
  • Local chapter
  • Six chapter officers
  • One brother who owned the property where the “event” was hosted

Case summary:

On or about April 11, 2003, Joe S. suffered permanent and disabling brain injuries during what he alleges was a Sigma Chi Fraternity pledging incident. Shortly after enrolling at ____ University, Joe became a pledge at the local Sigma Chi chapter. On April 11, he attended “Bid Night,” an evening of activities that Joe was required to attend as a condition of membership. The pledge activities were under the direction of the fraternity members.

At the chapter house, Joe and the other pledges were subjected to a variety of pledge “activities,” which included public humiliation, embarrassment and physical abuse. One such incident involved the pledges being sprayed with beer and wine. These activities were considered traditions for the chapter. Later, the Sigma Chi members drove the pledges to an off-campus house that was occupied by members of the chapter. They were told to leave their personal possessions behind, including their cell phones, wallets and keys. The “Bid Night” activities continued and alcohol was made available to the pledges, some of whom were underage.

Around 12:30 a.m., the local sheriff disbanded the party upon complaints of excess noise.

However, Joe was last seen at the event around 11:30 p.m. The next time anyone remembers seeing Joe was around 2 a.m. at the front door of his dorm. He has no recollection of what happened to him during those hours.

After exhaustive interviews by campus administration and local authorities, no one could account for what happened to Joe.

Joe alleges he was under the control of the Sigma Chi members at “Bid Night,” and that during this time he sustained a large skull fracture, multiple brain contusions, and associated swelling and bleeding of the brain. As a result, Joe now suffers cognitive and motor impairments and will require a lifetime of medical care.

The cause of the injury remains unclear.

A lawsuit was brought against the named parties charging them with negligence, breach of duty to provide medical assistance, hazing, and breach of contract.

Expenses:

The RMF spent in excess of $100,000 defending and resolving this claim.

 


Analysis of Joe S. v. Sigma Chi Fraternity, Et Al - Provided by RMF legal counsel

The state in which the university is situated has an anti-hazing law, like most states, which provides that in the course of a person’s initiation into an organization, it is unlawful to intentionally and recklessly engage in conduct that creates a substantial risk of physical injury to that person. Further, hazing is defined by the state as any action taken or situation created intentionally, whether on or off fraternity premises, to produce mental or physical discomfort, embarrassment, harassment, or ridicule.

Moreover, the RMF’s insurance policies specifically exclude coverage for hazing-related claims. Thus, under the RMF’s insurance policies, only limited insurance coverage was available to the General Fraternity, chapter and chapter officers for the claims not related to hazing.

If a verdict had been rendered against the General Fraternity, chapter and chapter officers which provided that the pledge’s injuries were caused by acts of hazing, then the RMF’s policies would have covered neither the judgment amount, nor the legal fees associated with defending the hazing claims.

Furthermore, if a verdict had been rendered against the General Fraternity, chapter and chapter officers for combined liability on the claims for hazing and negligence, then the RMF’s policies would have only covered the judgment and legal fees associated with the claims not related to hazing.

Importantly, this would have also been the case if any of the following parties were included in the lawsuit: alumni advisors, local alumni association, house corporation, and General Fraternity regional and national officers.

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