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Fraternity pledge loses appeal involving alleged hazing incident

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Two Indiana Court of Appeals judges found that an incident involving “showering” at a Wabash College fraternity in 2007 – which led to injuries to a freshman pledge – were not considered hazing under Indiana law. Judge Nancy Vaidik, who dissented, found the majority’s view of pledging and hazing “far too restrictive.”

Brian Yost sued Wabash College, his fraternity Phi Kappa Psi, the fraternity’s national chapter, and fraternity brother Nathan Cravens for personal and mental injuries he sustained in an incident at the house. Yost and his fraternity pledge brothers wanted to throw an upperclassman brother into a near by creek, which is called “creeking,” to celebrate his 21st birthday. After being unsuccessful, four upperclassman brothers decided to carry Yost to the shower and run water on him, which is called “showering.” When to perform both activities is explained in the pledge handbook. This incident of “showering” was spontaneous.

While trying to “shower” Yost, Cravens placed Yost in a chokehold, causing him to lose consciousness. The other brothers dropped Yost’s body on the floor. The incident led to Yost eventually withdrawing from college.  

The trial court granted Wabash College and the Phi Kappa Psi defendants’ motions for summary judgment, which Judges Terry Crone and Cale Bradford affirmed. Summary judgment was not entered for Cravens, and he is not participating in the appeal in Brian Yost v. Wabash College, Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity, Inc., Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity - Indiana Gamma Chapter at Wabash College, and Nathan Cravens, 54A01-1201-CT-31.

Yost maintained the incident surrounding his injuries was hazing and those defendants turned a blind eye and owed him a duty of reasonable care. The majority opinion noted that no Indiana court has specifically addressed liability for university and fraternities based on allegations of injuries stemming from an incident involving hazing.

But the majority found that this incident did not amount to hazing under Indiana’s criminal anti-hazing law or other foreseeable criminal conduct, and that the activities that night were impromptu and not keeping with the parameters specified in the pledge manual.

“We agree that a college cannot simply turn a blind eye to inherently dangerous activities on its campus; neither can a fraternity ignore such activities within its walls. Nevertheless, we reiterate that such institutions/organizations are not guarantors or insurers of their adult student-members’ safety, and we reject the notion that all fraternities should be impugned based on the activities of a few,” Crone wrote for the majority, which found that the defendants did not breach any duty owed to Yost.

In her dissent, Vaidik found genuine issue of material fact regarding whether Wabash and the Phi Psi local chapter owed Yost a duty of care, and whether the events of that night constituted criminal hazing that were reasonably foreseeable to Wabash.

She noted since the early 2000s, there have been 15 reported instances of hazing that Wabash was aware of and took action on – three of which directly involved the Phi Psi house.

“All said, I believe that the designated facts could reasonably lead a trier of fact to conclude that hazing occurred here—hazing that both Phi Psi and Wabash had a duty to stop yet ignored,” she wrote.

 

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