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Justices affirm judgment in favor of national fraternity in wrongful death action

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A national fraternity assumed no duty to protect local chapter pledges and is not vicariously liable for the negligence of local chapter officers and representatives, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled Wednesday. The justices affirmed summary judgment for Delta Tau Delta in a wrongful death action brought by a deceased pledge’s family.

Johnny Dupree Smith, a freshman pledge of the Beta Psi Chapter of Delta Tau Delta, died of acute alcohol intoxication after drinking heavily at the fraternity house at Wabash College. His parents sued the national fraternity, the local chapter, Wabash College and others. The trial court granted the national fraternity’s motion for summary judgment, and the Court of Appeals affirmed in part but reversed the grant of summary judgment.

The justices examined the issues brought by Smith’s family in light of its recent decision in Yost v. Wabash College, 3 N.E.3d 509 (Ind. 2014).

The Smiths argued two claims on appeal: that certain evidence designated by Delta Tau Delta should be stricken and there are genuine issues of material fact as to whether the national fraternity assumed a duty to protect the local chapter pledges and whether it is vicariously liable for the negligence of local chapter officers and representatives.

The justices decided that they may consider the affidavit of the executive vice president of the national fraternity but not the purported interview transcripts by police in evaluating Delta Tau Delta’s motion for summary judgment.

The Supreme Court, citing previous cases dealing with national fraternity liability for local chapter activities, including Yost, found there is no designated evidentiary material showing Delta Tau Delta had a right to exercise direct day-to-day oversight and control over the activities of the local fraternity and its members, Chief Justice Brent Dickson wrote. Just as in Yost, the specific duty undertaken in regard to the policies on hazing and underage and irresponsible drinking was an educational one without any power of preventative control.

The justices also found as a matter of law that an agency relationship does not exist between the national fraternity and the Wabash chapter or its members.

“Although subject to remedial sanctions, in their choice of conduct and behavior, the local fraternity and its members were not acting on behalf of the national fraternity and were not subject to its control,” he wrote. “The national fraternity is not subject to vicarious liability for the actions of the local fraternity, its officers or its members.”

The case is Stacy Smith and Robert Smith, Individually and as Co-Personal Representatives of the Estate of Johnny Dupree Smith, Deceased v. Delta Tau Dalta, Inc. and Beta Psi Chapter of Delta Tau Delta, et al., 54S01-1405-CT-356.
 

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  1. Why in the world would someone need a person to correct a transcript when a realtime court reporter could provide them with a transcript (rough draft) immediately?

  2. If the end result is to simply record the spoke word, then perhaps some day digital recording may eventually be the status quo. However, it is a shallow view to believe the professional court reporter's function is to simply report the spoken word and nothing else. There are many aspects to being a professional court reporter, and many aspects involved in producing a professional and accurate transcript. A properly trained professional steno court reporter has achieved a skill set in a field where the average dropout rate in court reporting schools across the nation is 80% due to the difficulty of mastering the necessary skills. To name just a few "extras" that a court reporter with proper training brings into a courtroom or a deposition suite; an understanding of legal procedure, technology specific to the legal profession, and an understanding of what is being said by the attorneys and litigants (which makes a huge difference in the quality of the transcript). As to contracting, or anti-contracting the argument is simple. The court reporter as governed by our ethical standards is to be the independent, unbiased individual in a deposition or courtroom setting. When one has entered into a contract with any party, insurance carrier, etc., then that reporter is no longer unbiased. I have been a court reporter for over 30 years and I echo Mr. Richardson's remarks that I too am here to serve.

  3. A competitive bid process is ethical and appropriate especially when dealing with government agencies and large corporations, but an ethical line is crossed when court reporters in Pittsburgh start charging exorbitant fees on opposing counsel. This fee shifting isn't just financially biased, it undermines the entire justice system, giving advantages to those that can afford litigation the most. It makes no sense.

  4. "a ttention to detail is an asset for all lawyers." Well played, Indiana Lawyer. Well played.

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