Court OKs suit against Wabash College fraternity in alcohol related hazing death
The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled that the national organization of a Wabash College fraternity where a freshman pledge died after a night of heavy drinking in an suspected hazing incident is not entitled to summary judgment.
The lawsuit claims that Wabash College and the national Delta Tau Delta fraternity share blame for Smith’s death. Both are accused of ignoring illegal alcohol consumption by minors and hazing activities at fraternity houses.
Johnny Dupree Smith was pledging the Beta Psi Chapter of Delta Tau Delta at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, IN. Smith was found unresponsive the morning after a party. It was determined that he had been dead for several hours and that his blood alcohol content was almost .40 percent.
The trial court had granted summary judgment to Delta Tau Delta based partially on an affidavit of James Russell, Delta Tau Delta’s executive vice president, and two unsworn and uncertified statements made to police by witnesses. The appellate court ruled that the vice president’s affidavit contained conflicting statements and that it should have been stricken. There were several contradictions concerning the level of involvement the national organization has with its local chapters. It was also decided that the witness statements should not have been admitted because they were not certified. The statements were determined to be inadmissible as hearsay.
Claims against Wabash College are pending.
The possibility of a fraternity being held legally responsible for the hazing death of a fraternity pledge is an important development in Indiana tort law.