Posted: March 22, 2021

Hazing deaths at college fraternity have occurred for some two centuries in the United States, though the incidence of these tragedies seems to have grown worse in recent years.

Since 1938, the date from which Franklin College journalism professor Hank Nuwer began compiling a national database of hazing-related deaths, there have been more than 200 fatalities at colleges and universities, with at least one every year since 1969 and an average of 4.9 deaths per year between 2008 and 2018.

Many of the deaths have been alcohol-related, ironically more so since many states raised their drinking ages to 21 in the 1960s and 1970s. Many fraternities use drinking “games” and forced drinking as part of rush ceremonies for pledges, who are generally younger and new to campuses.

Alcohol poisoning is the leading cause of these deaths. Fatal injuries also result after binge drinking during hazing rituals, while extreme forced physical labor also costs the lives of young men seeking to join fraternities.

Kline & Specter represent the families of several students who have been the victims of hazing. In one case stemming from a hazing death in 2017 at Penn State, the law firm has not only filed suit against a number of parties on behalf of the parents of Timothy Piazza but has also gone to bat for the family in helping to expose the extent of hazing through news conferences and public appearances.

Our attorneys have further backed Jim and Evelyn Piazza in seeking solutions to the problem. Penn State has implemented new rules and regulations to combat hazing at the school and the Pennsylvania legislature and Gov. Tom Wolfe have enacted the Timothy J. Piazza Antihazing Act, which, along with other measures, makes certain hazing-related crimes a felony. The hope is that other states will follow. 

Kline & Specter attorneys recently filed a lawsuit against a Bloomsburg University fraternity, sorority and 36 of their members in the 2019 death of Justin King, who was only 18 when, after being plied with alcohol, he fell down a 75-foot embankment to his death. King, a freshman, suffered brain, liver, and lung damage and a broken rib, among other injuries.

Defendants in the suit are the Bloomsburg chapters of Kappa Sigma fraternity and Alpha Sigma Tau sorority, which hosted the party, and many of their members. The suit was filed in Luzerne County. 

It alleges the defendants violated the Piazza Law, which makes it a crime to cause a student to consume alcohol or other substances that might risk physical harm or for them to participate in activities that create a “reasonable likelihood of bodily injury.” The lawsuit claims that drinking large amounts of alcohol was part of King’s initiation. 

“The passing of Justin King was needless and senseless,” Shanin Specter told the news media. “If only the fraternity and sorority leaders had followed the rules and the law, Justin’s death would have been prevented. We intend to seek the full measure of damages as well as appropriate reform.”

Incidents of serious injury as the result of hazing should be reported to the authorities, while victims and their families may have grounds for civil redress. If you feel that you or a loved one was severely hurt as the result of a hazing incident, contact our attorneys for a confidential and free evaluation of your case.

Cases similar to those of Piazza and King go far back. One of the earlier recorded hazing deaths, in 1873, of Cornell student Mortimer Leggett, is eerily similar to the recent death of King in that, participating in a fraternity-mandated nighttime walk, he fell down a steep gorge to his death. The first alcohol-related fatality mentioned in Nuwer’s database was the death of a Kappa Sigma brother at the University of Missouri in 1940.