05272017Headline:

Greenville, OBX & Rocky Mount, North Carolina

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Rick Shapiro
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Could hazing injuries be the fault of the college administration?

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Fraternity pledge Brian Yost suffered a severe brain injury in 2007, when, after hazing an upperclassman by dunking him in a creek and returning to the house with fellow pledges to dunk another, he was in turn hazed. Sometime around 2 a.m. that Sunday, four Phi Kappa Psi members attempted to force Yost into the frat house shower during a drunken brawl. When he struggled, a Phi Psi member reportedly subdued him with a choke hold and dropped him in a panic when he lost consciousness. Yost's head struck the bathroom floor. Two years later, Yost filed a lawsuit against Wabash College, the local fraternity chapter, the national affiliate, and the member who dropped him. Wabash and the fraternity argued that there were no factual questions for a jury to decide, and Montgomery Superior Judge David A. Ault dismissed the case. Yost then asked the Indiana Court of Appeals to review his case, and judges upheld the ruling in a 2-1 vote, according to the Associated Press. The dissenting judge gave Yost hope, however, that the Crawfordsville, Indiana, private school had a duty to look out for its students.

After all, hazing is considered a criminal act in Indiana. Now Indiana's Supreme Court will determine whether he has a case. Defense attorneys state in court documents that Yost's injuries couldn't have been anticipated. But according to a local attorney, the school has faced several lawsuits stemming from drunken shenanigans, including the death of an 18-year-old frat member who died from alcohol poisoning and the death of another who fell from a campus roof. "Unlike fraternity and sorority houses on most other Indiana campuses, Wabash owns the fraternity house where Yost was injured," he stated. That landlord status could help Yost's case, since property owners are required to "protect guests from 'reasonably foreseeable' dangers."

The national spotlight on hazing has intensified in recent years. What used to be considered par for the course for any new pledge now is viewed as the dangerous activity it really is. Hopefully suits like the one filed by Yost's family will help continue to move public perception in believing that this is a crime and not just a college prank or rite of passage. Fraternities can no longer say that they aren't on notice.