On November 4, 2001, Chad Meredith attempted to swim across Lake Osceola with leaders of the Kappa Sigma Fraternity. The hopeful pledge had spent the night drinking with his future fraternity brothers before the group drunkenly jumped in the lake. As he struggled to swim, the severely inebriated Meredith was left behind by the group. Hours later, his body was pulled from the bottom of the lake.
In the aftermath of this tragedy, Attorney David Bianchi represented Meredith’s parents to pursue a claim against those who were responsible for the death of their son. Mr. Bianchi successfully established that the pressures produced by the culture of hazing ultimately caused the death of Chad Meredith. The jury agreed with Mr. Bianchi’s case and returned the largest verdict in the country for the hazing death of a pledge. Though the civil case had been won, Mr. Bianchi was not done fighting the toxic culture of fraternity and sorority hazing.
The Chad Meredith Act
In 2005, following the verdict in the Meredith case, David Bianchi helped draft a new law in Florida that would become known as the “Chad Meredith Act.” The new law was one of the strongest anti-hazing laws in the country and made any act of hazing that caused serious personal injury or death a felony punishable by jail time. In addition, the law specifically provided that it was no defense to the crime of hazing to claim that the victim consented to the activity that lead to his death and no defense to claim that the activity was not part of an official fraternity event.
Mr. Bianchi was proud to have convinced the Florida Legislature and Governor Bush, who signed the bill into law, to expand the protections of Florida’s hazing law. However, he knew his work wasn’t done. Today, he is seeking to strengthen the Chad Meredith Act with amendments to the statute that he helped write. After representing more victims of hazing, Mr. Bianchi is using his experience to make the hazing law even tougher. He has seen too many people escape criminal prosecution for willfully and recklessly harming others in the name of fraternity and sorority “traditions.”
Drafting Amendments to Florida’s Anti-Hazing Laws
Last week, David Bianchi met with Florida State University President John Thrasher to discuss anti-hazing efforts. Together, the two agreed to work on drafting two new amendments to Florida’s anti-hazing law.
Both amendments were inspired by clients that Mr. Bianchi recently represented.
In one case, Andrew Coffey did not receive the medical attention he needed because fraternity members feared calling 911 when it was obvious that he was in critical condition due to excessive alcohol consumption. Instead of being taken to the hospital when he really needed help, he was left alone all night and found unresponsive the next morning. Had someone – anyone – called 911 when Andrew really needed help, he would be alive today. Because of that experience, Mr. Bianchi is proposing that Florida include an amnesty provision in its hazing law to encourage those in a position to help to call 911 asap.
“Andrew’s parents are convinced that if someone had called 911 when their son was on that couch, he would be alive today,” Bianchi said to FSU News. “We need to change the law to incentivize those who are in the best position to call for help to actually pick up the phone and do so. They are the victim’s last best hope.”
Another case that Mr. Bianchi is working on at the moment involves an insane fraternity tradition called “Scumbag of the Week.” Per the tradition, a fraternity brother is selected “Scumbag” and then has to stand still as he is hit in the face by a “Brother of the Week.” In the case that Mr. Bianchi is working on, however, the “Scumbag” was hit so hard that he was knocked to the floor and suffered a life-altering brain injury. Due to limitations in the law, the assailant could not be prosecuted under Florida’s hazing statute because the victim was a fraternity member and not a pledge. Mr. Bianchi’s current efforts to amend the law include an expansion of who is protected against hazing rituals to include fraternity members and not just pledges.
Protecting Students from the Dangerous Tradition of Hazing
Recently, Mr. Bianchi has been the subject of much media attention regarding the hazing cases he is taking on and his efforts to better protect students from these dangerous—often fatal—traditions. Last weekend, his efforts were featured in an article from FSU News. The article looked not only into Mr. Bianchi’s efforts to work alongside Florida State University President John Thrasher, but also his past legislative efforts to put an end to hazing.
Hazing is a problem at the root of too many fraternity and sorority traditions, but it has caused too many serious injuries and deaths of young people who are simply trying to fit in on campus. To make a difference, lawmakers need the guidance of attorneys like Mr. Bianchi and university leaders to fully appreciate the need for effective anti-hazing laws. Mr. Bianchi and the leadership at Florida State University hope to introduce amendments to Florida’s current hazing laws during the next session of the Florida Legislature.
To learn more about Mr. Bianchi’s efforts to toughen hazing laws, check out the recent FSU News article.
If you’d like to discuss your hazing case with our legal team, call (305) 770-6335 for a free consultation.