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Newsletter > March 2023 > "Adam Oakes’ Family Files Damage Action Against Delta Chi Fraternity"
Adam Oakes’ Family Files Damage Action Against Delta Chi Fraternity
Timothy M. Burke, Fraternal Law Partners, firstname.lastname@example.org
Adam Oakes, a student at Virginia Commonwealth University (“VCU”), died of alcohol poisoning allegedly resulting from hazing at a Big Brother event organized by members of the campus’s Delta Chi Chapter. Since that time, some members of the Chapter have been criminally convicted, the state of Virginia strengthened its hazing-related law by adopting “Adams Law,” and VCU has entered into a pre-suit settlement agreement in which it will pay $995,000.00 to Adam’s family and will strengthen its own alcohol and fraternity and sorority regulations.
On February 6, 2023, as was to be expected, a damage action was filed by Adam’s Estate against the Delta Chi Fraternity, its chapter at VCU, and the Delta Chi Educational Foundation. Twelve individuals are also named as defendants, including the Chapter President, the pledge trainer, several executive committee members, and a chapter advisor. The Complaint blames all of them for Adam’s death.
The fifty-page, one-hundred fifty-five paragraph Complaint states three counts, all grounded in wrongful death. The first count claims negligence in its various forms, the second claims fraud, and the third claims a violation of the Virginia Consumer Protection Act. The first two counts each seek compensatory damages in the amount of twenty-eight million dollars, while the third count, based on the unique provisions of the Virginia Consumer Protection Act (the “Act”), seeks treble damages and reasonable attorneys’ fees, which are uniquely available under the Act.
The negligence claims are rooted in an alleged breach of duty, which is typical in a wrongful death case. The fraud claim argues that Adam was fraudulently induced into joining the Fraternity based on statements published by the Delta Chi Fraternity and its Educational Foundation. Specifically, the Complaint takes issue with statements indicating opposition to hazing and dedication to protecting the safety of their members, while simultaneously “choosing to withhold material information that would have been contrary” to those statements. The final count claims the Fraternity and the Chapter were each a “supplier” and Adam was a “consumer” under the Consumer Protection Act. It goes on to argue that the conduct detailed in the Complaint were “fraudulent acts and practices committed by a supplier in connection with a consumer transaction” under the Virginia law.
Like other complaints before this one, especially those in which Douglas Fierberg was similarly part of the plaintiff’s legal team, the Oakes Complaint not only details the horrors of hazing incidents, but also attempts to include every alleged wrongdoing by the Fraternity they could find at any of the Fraternity’s chapters across the country.
Keep in mind that the claims set forth in the Complaint have not been proven and the court will not determine the accuracy of some of the claimed legal conclusions until many months from now. But what is clear is that Adam Oakes should not have died in an incident, let alone one that was kept secret from the national Fraternity and Foundation, at the hands of those who claimed to have desired to be his “brother.”