A fatal hazing ritual at a Pennsylvania State University fraternity in February led to the death of 19-year-old, Tim Piazza and eight arrests for involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault.
Eighteen members of the Penn State chapter of Beta Theta Pi are being charged with crimes including tampering with evidence, reckless endangerment and providing alcohol to minors. The fraternity chapter is facing a total of 147 charges.
The incident occurred on Feb. 2, 2017 when the student fell 15-feet head first down a flight of stairs. Piazza had consumed a large amount of alcohol throughout the night, according to police.
Medical reports indicate Piazza suffered a fractured skull and severe abdominal bleeding, which intensified during the 12-hour period the student was prevented medical treatment.
Prosecutors argued that Piazza’s death was caused by negligence and entirely preventable, and the actions of the fraternity members were inexcusable.
The Grand Jury Findings
The grand jury found that Piazza died after suffering traumatic injuries from falling several times during a party that promoted excessive drinking for underage pledges of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity.
Accounts from witnesses and evidence obtained by investigators detail Piazza as being barely conscious for the remainder of the night after his initial fall.
Video footage obtained from the fraternity house’s security cameras shows Piazza’s limp body being carried by several members of the fraternity. He was visibly bruised and swollen.
Members of the fraternity attempted to rouse Piazza by using crude methods, such as pouring liquids on his face and slapping him to regain consciousness. They also placed a bag full of books on his back to prevent him from rolling over.
During this time, multiple members of the fraternity fell over Piazza and one fell onto his abdomen as he lay unconscious on the floor.
Piazza eventually regained consciousness after 3:30 a.m. He attempted to stand and move around the house, but fell and hit his head several times. After 7:15 a.m., the student staggered toward the house’s basement steps, according to surveillance footage.
A fellow pledge found Piazza in the basement at around 10 a.m. Members of the fraternity finally called emergency responders at 10:48 a.m., at which time the student was breathing heavily, had blood on his face and was cold to the touch.
The grand jury also found that those who were involved in the hazing attempted to erase messages sent through a group chat that depicted their attempts to downplay the situation and cover up the involvement of other fraternity members.
In response to the incident, Beta Theta Pi has been disbanded from Pennsylvania State University’s campus.
Pennsylvania’s Hazing Laws
Many states have laws banning all forms of institutionalized hazing, which is considered any forced action intended to endanger another individual’s mental or physical health or safety with the purpose of initiating into or affiliating with an organization.
Pennsylvania’s anti-hazing laws make the act a criminal third-degree misdemeanor and identify several types of hazing, such as:
- Mental abuse
- Sleep deprivation
- Forced consumption of food, alcohol or drugs
- Exclusion from social activities
- Physical abuse
- Forced exercise
- Exposure to the elements
- Destruction of property
- Forcing victims to commit crimes
- Sexual assault
Hazing compromises the physical and mental well-being of the victim. Organizations that promote competitive membership, such as fraternities and sororities, are required to adopt anti-hazing policies.
However, many organizations continue to perform hazing rituals and activities. The effects from hazing activities on victims can be severe and have long-lasting repercussions.
If an individual is harmed or killed because of hazing, the organization in which it occurred can be held liable for recklessness and lack of institutional oversight.
How Our Lawyers Can Assist with Your Hazing Case
If you have been the victim of hazing or have lost a loved one in connection with a hazing crime, our Harrisburg personal injury attorneys may be able to help you pursue justice against those who were involved.
Hazing victims who were physically or emotionally harmed might be able to pursue damages from those responsible for the hazing through a civil lawsuit.
Our attorneys will help you or your loved one in identifying the parties involved in your hazing, as well as those who failed to uphold the policies and laws designed to prevent all dangerous rituals from occurring.
We will investigate the hazing incident and those who were involved to determine the role they play and the extent of damage they are responsible for.
We can discuss your claim during a free consultation and review the known facts surrounding the incident to determine if you are able to pursue legal action and hold the organization liable for the damages.
Wrongful Death Claims for Hazing Victims
Tragedies like the recent Penn State hazing death may allow the victim’s surviving family or loved ones pursue a wrongful death claim against the responsible parties.
It might be possible for you to bring a wrongful death claim on behalf of the victim if he or she died as a result of another’s negligence, failure to act or intentional behavior.
The basis of a wrongful death claim is to replace the personal injury claim the victim would have been entitled to had he or she survived.
In Pennsylvania, only certain parties are entitled to file a wrongful death claim on behalf of the victim, which our attorneys can discuss during a free consultation.
Contact our Harrisburg Lawyers
No amount of money can ever repair the damage caused by a harmful or deadly incident of hazing.
However, by taking legal action, you may be able to seek justice by holding the responsible parties liable and prevent others from being harmed by future acts of hazing.
Our Harrisburg law firm has advocated the right of injury victims for more than 25 years. This experience has provided us with a deep understanding of the hardships victims and their families endure.
For this reason, we try to make the legal process as easy as possible by providing a potential clients with a free, no obligation consultation to discuss their claim. If you choose to retain our firm, we will only charge you on a contingency fee basis. This means all of our services are provided at no upfront cost and we only require payment if we reach a fair outcome for your claim.