A nineteen-year-old freshman at Northern Illinois University died last fall after a Pi Kappa Alpha pledge party. He and other pledges were quizzed about fraternity history and told to drink plastic cups of liquor. By ten p.m. some had consumed around 20 drinks. The nineteen-year-old student’s family claimed that the fraternity members made him consume a dangerous amount of alcohol while hazing him and then did not help him when he passed out. Like many other states, Illinois has strict anti-hazing laws. Across the nation, more than 1,800 college-age students (ages 18 to 24) die every year because of an alcohol-related event.
Found dead at the frat house the following morning, the nineteen-year-old student’s cause of death was a fatal heart arrhythmia caused by alcohol intoxication. The coroner said that his blood alcohol level was more than four times the legal driving limit at 0.351. Earlier in the evening, his blood alcohol level would have been 0.431.
The police determined that the goal of the party was to get pledges as intoxicated as possible. The school claimed the pledge party was not sanctioned. Fraternity members and a number of party attendees were brought in front of a university disciplinary panel. Some students were required to participate in certain programs. One fraternity leader voluntarily left the school. Five fraternity officers were charged with felony hazing and 17 students were charged with misdemeanors. The arrests of these students added up to one of the largest groups to be criminally charged in a college hazing episode.
Although the university concluded its disciplinary process and criminal charges were brought, the family brought a wrongful death lawsuit against the fraternity leaders and people who attended the party. Recently, the attorney for the student’s family returned to court in order to speed up the process of getting access to the DeKalb police for their investigative reports via subpoena.
Family members may bring a lawsuit for wrongful death under the Illinois Wrongful Death Act within the statute of limitations period from the date of death. The lawsuit is for the benefit of the victim’s next of kin, such as spouses, children, parents and siblings. Although a lawsuit cannot compensate entirely for the loss of the person, it can compensate surviving family members for “pecuniary injuries”, such as loss of financial support from the deceased, care, supervision, guidance, household assistance, society, companionship, and love, as well as the grief and suffering experienced by the family as a result of the death. Damages can also be sought for burial and medical expenses for the deceased.
In order to recover for these losses, negligence must be proven. Specifically, four elements must be shown: the defendant had a duty to the deceased, the defendant breached that duty, the death was caused by the defendant’s failure to meet his or her duty, and the survivors are entitled to damages experienced due to their loss of a loved one.
Illinois follows modified comparative negligence standards for recovery. This means that someone can recover damages for wrongful death only if the decedent was less than 50% at fault for an injury or damages. The amount of recovery can be reduced in proportion to the decedent’s fault.
If your loved one passed away due to someone else’s negligence or fault, call the hardworking wrongful death attorneys at Abels & Annes, P.C. a call at (312) 924-7575 to discuss your rights. Our caring Chicago personal injury lawyers are available 24 hours per day, seven days of the week. For a free consultation with a capable advocate, please contact Abels & Annes, P.C. through the law firm’s website.
Note: Abels & Annes, P.C. does not represent the victims in the above described case.
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