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Can a College Be Liable for Injuries Caused by a Fraternity?

On many college campuses, fraternities and sororities are a way of life.  Many students enjoy being part of these organizations for the connections they provide and the parties that are hosted.  However, in a recent tragic case, hazing during a fraternity initiation led to a Baruch student’s death.  Thirty-seven members of the fraternity, as well as the fraternity itself have all been charged with homicide.

Fraternities have become notorious for inappropriate and dangerous hazing rituals that have led to homicide and suicide.  They have also received notoriety for assaults, batteries, and sexual assaults on campus.  Members have become victims of physical attacks and endured psychological trauma.  Because of the duty owed by college administration to keep students safe, a college may also be held liable if students are injured by a fraternity in addition to the fraternity’s local and national chapters, as well as the students who were involved in the act that caused injury to another.

Specifically, if a college or university knew of a certain ritual performed by a fraternity on campus, liability for negligence can be imposed.  Additionally, a college can be liable when it had knowledge that the fraternity engaged in certain conduct that could cause harm to others, and failed to make reasonable efforts to either stop or control the practice.  In 2010, the most common liability claims faced by fraternities were assault and battery at 23%, followed by sexual assault at 15%.    

Negligence may arise when a duty that is owed to another is breached, and that breach causes harm.  However, the harm must also be foreseeable.  For example, a college may not be held liable for the criminal act of a non-student when it took reasonable safety measures and no such prior criminal acts had occurred on campus.   

Today, it is the norm that students attend college after high school.  Therefore, many courts have followed the “duty owed” rule in imposing liability.  If you or your child plans on joining a fraternity on campus, keep the following tips in mind:

 

  • Familiarize yourself with the college’s fraternity policies
  • Familiarize yourself with state and local laws regarding hazing
  • Familiarize yourself with the relationship between your college and local law enforcement organizations

If you or your child has been harmed due to fraternity related activities, contact an experienced personal injury attorney who can advise you of your legal rights and remedies.  The attorneys at Sakkas, Cahn & Weiss provide skilled representation to ensure that you obtain the compensation you deserve.  Call Sakkas, Cahn & Weiss, LLP at (212) 571-7171.

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