Meredith v May & Montgomery
Fraternity hazing and recruitment rituals are no longer what they used to be. As a result of too many high profile deaths on college campuses over the last 10 years, universities have cracked down on fraternities that subject young “pledges” to physical and psychological abuse that is often dangerous and illegal. While hazing rituals have been toned down and, on some campuses, eliminated all together, the leadership of campus fraternities on some campuses still doesn’t get it. And, tragically, a young freshman at the University of Miami is dead because the leadership of his fraternity went too far.
Chad Meredith was 18 years old when he enrolled at the University of Miami. A baseball star at his high school in Indiana Chad had dreams of playing for a big league college team. Not long after arriving on campus Chad became a “pledge” for Kappa Sigma Fraternity. On the night of November 4, 2001, while in the company of the fraternity president and two upper classmen fraternity brothers, Chad drank alcohol until he was drunk, so drunk that his blood alcohol level was nearly two times the legal limit. Then, at the urging of the President and fraternity brothers who Chad felt obliged to follow, Chad jumped in a campus lake that was cold, dirty and dark. As the group swam across, Chad fell behind and tried to turn around. Unable to swim because of the alcohol, the cold and the fatigue Chad screamed for help, but help never came. Chad’s “brothers” kept going and it was hours later before police divers finally pulled Chad’s body from the bottom of the lake.
Chad’s parents retained us to pursue a claim against those responsible. Claims asserted in the case included negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, and breach of duty to aid and/or rescue. The jury trial in this case began on February 2, 2004 in the Circuit Court of Miami-Dade County, Florida and concluded on February 6, 2004. The Jury’s verdict included an award of $7,000,000 for the mental pain and suffering for both Mr. and Mrs. Meredith as a result of the death of their son. The total verdict was $14,000,000. The jury found the defendant, Travis Montgomery, the fraternity president, 45% at fault for what happened. The jury also found the defendant David May, the former fraternity vice president, 45% at fault. Finally, the jury found Chad Meredith, the decedent, 10% at fault.
The total net verdict, which Mr. and Mrs. Meredith will recover from the fraternity’s insurance company, is $12,600,000. This is the largest verdict in the country for the hazing death of a fraternity pledge. It is one of the largest mental pain and suffering awards for the parents of a deceased teenager in Florida.