Massachusetts Legal Blog
What the Penn State Hazing Teaches Us
Hazing is a part of many university and college campuses. It typically happens at the beginning of the school year, when young men wish to join fraternities and young women wish to join sororities. Unfortunately, there aren’t many minor instances of hazing. These situations, which can involve something seemingly innocent, can quickly get out of hand and turn deadly.
That was the lesson learned in 2005 when a California State University student died after being forced to drink five gallons of water. More recently, it was a lesson learned just last year at Penn State.
In 2017, Tim Piazza of Lebanon, New Jersey, died after falling down basement steps after a night of heavy drinking. Fraternity members discovered Piazza unconscious at the bottom of the steps the next morning, but waited 40 minutes to call an ambulance. The fall was fatal for Piazza, who later died of head and abdominal injuries.
Shortly after the incident, the state’s prosecution brought a number of charges against a total of 25 fraternity members. The most serious charges included recklessly endangering another person. In early May, many of those charges were dismissed by a judge in the third preliminary hearing of the trial. The largest charges now relate to hazing and alcohol, for which the defendants will likely serve little to no jail time.
The latest decision was a blow to the prosecution, which has faced a number of setbacks in this case. But for the family, it may not be the final blow if they choose to file a wrongful death claim against any of the fraternity members.
Wrongful Death Lawsuits in Hazing Accidents
Family members of a victim may be able to file a wrongful death claim after a fatal hazing accident. Every person owes something known as a “duty of care” to everyone else. That is, everyone is expected to act in a reasonable and safe manner to ensure the safety of those around them. For example, a person who consumes five beers and then chooses to drive his car home is knowingly performing an act that could injure others. When people fail to uphold a basic duty of car to others, it can be considered negligence. When negligence results in the death of another person, the deceased’s family members or personal representatives can ask for just compensation through a civil trial.
A wrongful death claim can help with expenses related to the death, such as funeral and burial costs. A wrongful death lawsuit can also compensate family members for their losses, including loss of comfort, loss of household services, and loss of income/financial support.
Why You Need a Lawyer When Filing for Wrongful Death
Wrongful death cases are complicated. Who can file these claims, who is eligible for compensation, and what types of compensation are available all vary from state to state. There will be many other state-specific laws pertaining to wrongful death as well.
An attorney will know the wrongful death laws and be able to advise family members on their specific case. An attorney will also be able to speak on the loved one’s behalf to both the local authorities and insurance companies. If family members speak to an insurance company, that can actually hurt a wrongful death claim if they say something that can be taken out of context.
Losing a loved one, especially at a young age, is devastating to any family. While filing for compensation may help cover the financial costs related to the death, going through the legal process can be challenging at a difficult time. A wrongful death lawyer can take care of the legwork, paperwork, and deadlines while family members focus on trying to move forward.
Hold Responsible Parties Liable
After hearing just a few stories of the hazing that takes place across campuses every year, it’s easy to understand why the ritual can be a nightmare for parents. Hazing often goes too far, and people can be seriously injured or even killed. We can only hope that the Penn State incident, and many other hazings, teach us to stay away from this dangerous pastime.
If you have questions about filing a legal claim, speak to a Burlington wrongful death attorney at DiBella Law Offices, P.C. The consultation is free and confidential, and there is no obligation. Please call (781) 262-3338 anytime.
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