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Florida hazing death prompts wrongful death lawsuit

A Bethune-Cockman University student died in a car accident last year. His mother has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the school and a national fraternity. The lawsuit claims that hazing was the cause of his death and that neither the school nor the fraternity did enough to prevent it.

According to the lawsuit, the student along with other pledges were intentionally sleep deprived over a period of three weeks. On the night before the car accident, the young man and four other pledges stayed up all night studying. At approximately 4:30 a.m. they drove to another fraternity member's apartment for a test. After the test, the pledges drove home.

One of the pledges fell asleep at the wheel and crashed the vehicle into a telephone pole.The young man died shortly after the crash. According to the police investigation, the driver's lack of sleep contributed to the accident.

The college and the fraternity have taken the position that it was the student's own negligence that led to the accident. Both institutions are denying that they played any role in the accident.

Wrongful death lawsuits are frequently thought of in the context of surviving family members hoping to receive financial compensation. Settlements are often used to help families pay for funeral or medical expenses. There is, however, another possible purpose for a wrongful death lawsuit. It may be to bring public awareness to issues that affect people's safety and well being. In some cases, increased public awareness of an issue, such as unsafe hazing practices by fraternities, can lead to new laws or policies that protect the public.

Source: McClatchy Washington Bureau, "Death of Florida university student sparks hazing lawsuit", Denise-Marie Ordway, May 30, 2013

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