Fraternity Hazing Lawyers
Hazing isn't limited to Greek life, but fraternity hazing is what most people mean when they say "hazing"; in many ways, it typifies everything tragic about it. All hazing relies on some form of coercion, but fraternity hazing preys specifically on a person's need to belong. Many fraternity hazing deaths happen to "pledges," or people working to earn their way into the tribe. They usually earn it through acts of "courage" (i.e., acts of humiliation, exposure, alcohol abuse, and submission to a senior member of the fraternity).
Fraternity hazing is more insidious than general hazing because it is treated as an acceptable requirement for joining Greek life. College authorities often do very little to stop it, which helps perpetuate it. As some see it, it is a culturally accepted form of bullying under the guise of "character-building traditions." These are the words used to shield fraternity hazing from a cultural reckoning—or at least, it was. Now many parents see fraternity hazing for what it is:
A wasteful, tragic, and utterly needless component of college life.
The hazing lawyers at Stewart Tilghman Fox Bianchi & Cain, P.A. will not allow hazing to go unpunished. We will not sit idly by and allow young college students to be harmed at the hands of 'clubs' sanctioned by universities looking the other way. For decades, we have held fraternities and college administrators accountable for their role in harming young people. We've been described as a "national leader in hazing litigation" by the Daily Business Review. NewsNation said "David Bianchi is recognized as one of the nation's most successful lawyers in fraternity hazing cases."
If your son or daughter was harmed or killed by fraternity or sorority hazing, speak with our attorneys to learn what you can do and how we can help.
David is considered a leading expert on hazing litigation and prevention after decades of advocacy for young people and their families. Thanks to his efforts, our firm obtained the largest verdict ever awarded in a hazing case, helped families bring numerous fraternity abuses to light, and worked with legislators to draft the most advanced anti-hazing laws in the country. In October 2021, Prime News asked David to appear on their show as "one of the country's leading hazing lawyers," and solicited his thoughts on how to stop fraternity hazing.
Watch the full interview here:
David Bianchi first became familiar with hazing cases when he was retained by the family of Chad Meredith. Chad was an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Miami who had been recruited to be a pledge by the Kappa Sigma fraternity. On a cold and windy night in November, the fraternity president and vice-president spent hours drinking with Chad and then, at 4 AM, told Chad they would swim the lake because it was a fraternity tradition to do so. Chad hated swimming, especially in dark water where he could not see the bottom. Nevertheless, not wanting to risk rejection by the fraternity, he followed them into the water and attempted to swim across the lake. Halfway across, he had a panic attack. He was abandoned by the fraternity officers as he screamed for help and drowned. Police divers recovered his body hours later.
Our firm held the fraternity members responsible by proving they had failed in their duty to aid and rescue Chad, as well as proving that their negligence was what caused Chad's death in the first place. The jury saw through the defense's claims that Chad wasn't 'technically' participating in a fraternity event and awarded Chad’s parents $14 million for their pain and suffering caused by the death of their son.
When the verdict was announced, the fraternity president (who we sued) came out of his seat and headed for David Bianchi in an attempted attack. He was intercepted by three people who wrestled him to the floor and dragged him out of the court. Some fraternity members never seem to learn.
After getting justice, the Meredith family wanted to make sure what happened to their son would never happen again. At the time, Florida law made it exceedingly difficult for any fraternity or fraternity officer to be held criminally accountable for hazing; even if they did, hazing charges were a misdemeanor—an insultingly low-level charge, given the loss of life that hazing can cause.
The Meredith family asked us to try changing existing law on this, and we promised we would do our best to help. The first thing we did was contact Representative Adam Hasner, who was working on legislation that would make causing injury or death via hazing a third-degree felony. We partnered with Rep. Hasner to write the Chad Meredith Act—the first anti-hazing law in Florida to charge hazing as a felony. David and Mr. Meredith testified before the Florida legislature in support of the bill, and it passed without a single “no” vote. Governor Jeb Bush subsequently signed the Chad Meredith Act into law in 2004 at the University of Miami, where Chad died. It was a very emotional moment to see that happen. Chad would have been very proud.
That was the first time David Bianchi forayed into anti-hazing legislation, but it would not be the last. There was still work to be done to make the good law even better, and he would be back at the Florida legislature years later to champion the cause once again.
The Chad Meredith Act solved the first problem with preventing fraternity hazing: ensuring that the punishment for death or serious injury caused by hazing was appropriately harsh. However, the second fundamental problem with preventing hazing is penetrating the secrecy that shrouds fraternity life, which enables the abuse to continue.
Uncovering what happened in a hazing event is key to prosecution, but fraternity culture makes it difficult for investigators to do their jobs. Fraternity members may even coordinate their answers (as one grand jury found in a previous case). However, few understood the extent to which a fraternity's toxic culture would lead to someone's death.
Until, that is, the death of Andrew Coffey.
Andrew Coffey was a Florida State University student who died during a Pi Kappa Phi “Big Brother Night” tradition where he was told to drink an entire bottle of Wild Turkey bourbon in an infamous ritual called " passing the family bottle." Andrew drank an enormous amount of high-proof liquor that night at the urging of his fraternity brothers and fell unconscious. For hours he lay dying on the couch in the Pi Kappa Phi house while no one did anything to help him.
Andrew died from alcohol poisoning, but he might have lived had any one of the dozens of people around him that evening checked on him or stopped the ritual before it became deadly. Even when fraternity members eventually found him—his lips blue and his skin pale—they spent 11 minutes texting one another before they called 911. By then, however, it was too late. The Coffey family called on STFBC to get justice for their son, and we fought to make sure the fraternity officers and members were held criminally and financially liable for what they did.
Like the Meredith family, Tom and Sandra Coffey wanted to make sure that what happened to their son never happened again. They turned to us for help in improving Florida law and, in response, David Bianchi and Michael Levine began lobbying the Florida legislature to strengthen the Chad Meredith Act with a series of amendments.
David Bianchi and the Coffey parents testified before the Florida Senate Criminal Justice committee in March 2019 to propose our amendments to the Chad Meredith Act. The proposals included:
- Granting immunity to the first person to call 911 seeking assistance for the hazing victim and immunizing anyone rendering life-saving aid to the victim while help is on the way
- Prosecuting hazing suspects for causing permanent injury
- Holding the organizers and recruiters behind hazing events criminally liable as well
The testimony of David and Tom and Sandy Coffey convinced the committee to approve the proposals. In April 2019, the Florida Legislature unanimously passed the amendments proposed by David Bianchi, Michael Levine, and the Coffey family. Lawmakers also voted to change the name of the bill to "Andrew's Law" and sent the bill to the governor.
Governor DeSantis signed the bill into law in June 2019, making Florida the nation's leader in hazing law. To learn more, view the Daily Business Review article detailing the signing of "Andrew's Law."
The provision in Andrew's Law granting immunity to the first person to call 911 was a response to the unwillingness of Andrew Coffey’s fraternity 'brothers' to call 911 for fear of getting in trouble for having participated in the hazing event. The new law was also a response to our case on behalf of Nicholas Mauricio, another FSU student, who was left permanently brain damaged because of a fraternity tradition called "Scumbag of the Week."
While Nicholas' 'brothers' brought him to the hospital for medical treatment, their answers in response to police questioning led a grand jury to believe that their answers were scripted, and the truth hidden behind the obfuscation. Granting immunity to those that help save the hazing victim in his time of greatest need may incentivize those who know what happened to tell the truth. We will see how it works as time goes on.
In October 2021, Chi Mu—the University of Missouri chapter of Phi Gamma Delta—subjected 18-year-old Daniel Santulli to the time-honored tradition called “Pledge Dad Reveal Night.” As a part of that tradition, Danny was given his “family bottle” of Tito's Vodka and ordered to finish it himself. When pledges said they didn't want to drink anymore, fraternity members pressured them to continue. Depressed and physically exhausted, Danny complied—and he ended up with a BAC of .468%, nearly six times the legal limit to drive.
Around midnight, fraternity members discovered Danny on the couch with pale skin and blue lips. Rather than call 911, they drove Danny to the hospital, where staff realized he wasn't breathing and brought him back to life with frantic CPR. Danny survived that night, but his severe brain damage means he is unable to communicate and is no longer aware of his surroundings. His family is devastated.
In January 2022, STFBC filed a lawsuit against 23 defendants, including the Chi Mu fraternity officers and Phi Gamma Delta board of chapter advisors responsible for Danny's safety. Read our blog to learn more.
The news only reports the worst hazing cases but hazing harms countless people every year. Hazing does not only cause physical harm and fatal injury; in many cases, hazing also causes invisible injuries that are mental, emotional, or social and can last a lifetime.
- The impact of hazing can include:
- Suicidal thoughts
- Severe depression
- Loss of ability to sleep
- Emotional or mental instability
- Loss of a sense of control over one's life
- Declining grades or inability to finish coursework
- Decline in quality of relationships to loved ones
- Post-traumatic stress
- Erosion of trust and growing sense of isolation
Contrary to what fraternities will say, hazing does not develop unity and brotherhood. What it does develop, however, is a mechanism for control and a hierarchy within the organization, allowing those with power to exert their influence over those without any power. Hazing victims often haze new members or pledges years later because “if I had to go through it, so do you.” The hazers want to feel the same power that was exerted over them. The abuse creates a vicious cycle. That's why half of college students involved in clubs, sports, or organizations (of all genders) recently reported being hazed at some point in the past.
When hazing happens to you, peer pressure and concerns about what might happen to you if you report it sometimes make it difficult to deal with your shame and embarrassment. It's not uncommon for students to undergo hazing, only to realize afterwards that they were the victim of targeted abuse. Even then, students may be reluctant to report it because of imaginary consequences that are not likely to be realized. Should you be in this situation, speak with our fraternity hazing lawyers in a confidential consultation. We can help you understand if what you experienced was fraternity hazing, and whether your fraternity can be held accountable. Our team has won some of the most notable hazing cases in the nation. Call us today to get answers.
Fraternities and universities are well-prepared when it comes to litigation. If you're looking for justice from an institution of that size and scope, you'll need an attorney who is not only an excellent trial lawyer but has had decades of success handling hazing cases nationwide. David Bianchi and Michael Levine at Stewart Tilghman Fox Bianchi & Cain have been instrumental in some of the greatest hazing victories nationwide.
Our firm won the single largest hazing verdict in history for the family of Chad Meredith. Our own David Bianchi was the architect of Florida's anti-hazing statute, the Chad Meredith Act, which was the first law in the state to make hazing a felony. In 2019, David and Michael drafted and helped pass Andrew's Law, an amendment to the Chad Meredith Act that anti-hazing advocates have called “innovative,” “groundbreaking,” and “life-saving.”
As the foremost authorities on hazing representation in the nation, we're the firm victims call when they need real answers and real results. Speak with us today in a free consultation by calling (305) 770-6335.