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Newsletter > November 2010 > "ANOTHER HAZING AND DRINKING DEATH LEADS TO LAWSUIT"
ANOTHER HAZING AND DRINKING DEATH LEADS TO LAWSUIT
Tim Burke, Manley Burke, firstname.lastname@example.org
On September 22, 2010, a lawsuit1 sadly entitled “Complaint for Wrongful Death of a Child” was filed against Delta Tau Delta, its House Corporation at Wabash College, the College itself and two of the officers of the Chapter. The suit grew out of the October 2008 death of Johnny Dupree Smith, who was at the time of his death, a freshman pledge of the Delta Tau Delta Chapter at Wabash. (Throughout the Complaint, the deceased is referred to as Johnny and this article will follow suit.)
The factual assertions in the Complaint allege numerous acts of hazing committed against Johnny. These include required participation in “chapel sing” where, according to the Complaint, freshman pledges from each chapter on campus compete to attempt to yell the Wabash school song the loudest. Because Johnny didn’t “perform to the satisfaction of the judges,” a large red “W” was spray painted on him. He and other pledges were required to spend long hours well into the early morning building a homecoming float. They were required to clean the Chapter House wearing nothing but an apron. They were only allowed to sleep a few hours each night and forced to take part in drinking sessions with their “fraternity dad” and other members of their fraternity family. At a homecoming party and a “pledge family drink night,” which followed it, Johnny was alleged to have drunk massive quantities of alcohol estimated in the Complaint as being between 13.8 and 21.6 alcoholic drinks. After spending the night on a mattress tossed on the fraternity house floor, Johnny was found dead the next morning. He had a blood alcohol content of “nearly .40 percent.”
The lawsuit brought in Montgomery County, Indiana contains four separate counts. A claim of hazing in violation of Indiana law is made against the fraternity, the House Corporation and two officers. A dram shop claim (the improper distribution of alcohol) and negligent claims are made against the same defendants.
A separate negligence claim is made against Wabash College itself, which is alleged to have no alcohol policy and had a history of overlooking the abuse of alcohol by its fraternities. Wabash, an all male school, is dominated by its fraternities, which more than half of the students belong to, and whose houses are owned by the College.
The Complaint appears to confuse the house corporation with the chapter and asserts, without providing any explanation, that the national fraternity knew of the misconduct and, in fact, required much of it. The Complaint does acknowledge that Delta Tau Delta has an alcohol awareness program and that the pledges at Wabash were required to take the part in it.
The lawsuit is obviously in its early stages. Whether or not each of the defendants will ultimately be held liable remains to be seen, but clearly the conduct described in the Complaint is the antithesis of the brotherly concern that should be at the heart of the fraternal relationship. Had such consideration been uppermost in the minds of the chapter officers and members, it is hard to imagine that Johnny would have died just four months after his high school graduation.
1 Stacy and Robert Smith, personal representatives of the Estate of Johnny Dupree Smith v. Beta Psi Home Association of Delta Tau Delta, Inc. d/b/a Beta Psi Chapter of Delta Tau Delta, et al., Montgomery County Superior Court, State of Indiana, Cause No. 54D01 1009 CT 00346.