Report Shows National Fraternities Rarely Liable for Negligence Claims Against Local Chapters

Lambda_Chi_Alpha_letters_gold_on_green.svgStories of college students who drink too much and end up in the hospital are all too common, and far worse harm can occur due to hazing and other activities, including severe injury and death. Many states, including Connecticut, have laws against hazing on the books, but they typically only provide for criminal penalties. Suits for civil damages against fraternities, colleges, and universities have met with difficulty in recent years, according to a report by Bloomberg. National fraternity organizations and schools have been successful at shifting liability to local chapters and individuals, leaving those injured by hazing with little likelihood of collecting damages.

About seventy-five national fraternities grant charters to local chapters on college campuses in exchange for a portion of dues paid by members. Membership in national fraternities, which exceeded 327,000 in 2011, is almost exclusively male, while membership in sororities is almost entirely female. Fraternities seem to have a far worse track record at member and visitor safety. Bloomberg reports that fifty-two students have died in hazing or other fraternity-related incidents since 2005, and another five students have suffered paralysis. About two-thirds of those incidents involved nine of the largest national fraternities. In lawsuits brought against the national organizations, however, courts have often found the local chapters liable, and dismissed the national fraternities, based on breaches of their charter agreement or violations of drinking age laws.