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David W. Bianchi, America’s Leading Hazing Attorney, Reshapes Florida Law

Governor Ron DeSantis will soon be asked to sign into law provisions that expand the power and scope of the anti-hazing statute. Titled “Andrew’s Law,” the law amends our current anti-hazing statute to better protect hazing victims while making it easier for police to investigate incidents where hazing causes permanent injury or death. These amendments were written by Attorneys David W. Bianchi and Michael Levine from our firm, winning unanimous support from committee hearings to the floors of both the House and Senate.

Known as “Andrew’s Law” in honor of the memory of our client’s son Andrew Coffey, the new law:

  • Grants immunity to the first person to call 911 for a hazing victim who needs help and immunizes the person rendering aid to the hazing victim when the 911 call is made;
  • Makes it possible to prosecute people who plan or recruit for events where hazing occurs even if they are not present when the hazing occurs;
  • Makes hazing that causes permanent injury a third-degree felony

Bianchi was uniquely suited to amending the hazing statute because he wrote and championed the original statute, known as the “Chad Meredith Act” following the hazing death of Chad Meredith at the University of Miami in 2001. Following the largest jury verdict in the country for a hazing death in that case, Bianchi made it his mission to implement a new law that would hold those who haze liable for their actions. Governor Jeb Bush agreed and signed that bill into law on the University of Miami campus where Chad died. Now, many years later, David and Michael Levine went back to the legislature with updates to that law that makes it even better. Today, the Florida legislature agreed and unanimously passed what they wrote. It is now headed to Governor DeSantis to be signed into law.

The Death of Andrew Coffey

“Andrew’s Law” is named for Andrew Coffey, an FSU engineering student who died while pledging to Pi Kappa Phi. The young man, a junior, was at a fraternity event where he was subjected to a binge drinking tradition known as “the family bottle.” He was handed a bottle of Wild Turkey and expected to drink the entire bottle. He did so and was so drunk that he was moved to a couch to “sleep it off.” When his “brothers” came back in the morning to see how he was doing, Andrew was dead. If someone had bothered to call 911 at 3 am when they put him on the couch, he would probably be alive today.

"If just one of the kids from the party that night—there were 90 kids there—if just one of them would have picked up the phone when they saw that Andrew needed some help, he'd still be here," Andrew’s mother Sandy said to lawmakers during legislative hearings last month. The Coffey family filed a lawsuit against Pi Kappa Phi in February 2018 and were represented by Attorneys Bianchi and Levine. There were 15 defendants in that case and it subsequently settled prior to trial.

Addressing a New Legal & Cultural Landscape

David W. Bianchi and Michael Levine from our firm wrote “Andrew’s Law” as a direct response to what happened to Andrew and many other students nationwide. The culture of secrecy within fraternities makes hazing events notoriously difficult to investigate. Offering immunity in exchange for cooperation incentivizes students to call 911 and render aid to the hazing victim as soon as a hazing victim needs medical attention. It also breaks the culture of secrecy that keeps students from speaking the truth.

Additionally, holding recruiters and event planners responsible for hazing events is a powerful way to prevent it. When hazing occurs, responsibility lies with the leadership—the men and women who set the tone and create the circumstances wherein hazing thrives. Making leadership criminally liable when they plan these events even if they are not present when it happens is a necessary change to better protect our college students before they become hazing victims.

“We know we need to make this good law even better,” Attorney David W. Bianchi said to lawmakers on the Florida Senate Criminal Justice Committee when he testified in support of the bill he wrote. While the Chad Meredith Act was groundbreaking when he wrote it in 2004, it has not been updated in nearly 15 years. In a world where every student has the means to call for help, a world where fraternity leaders can help an investigation through instantaneous coordination, the law was desperately needed.

Speaking about Andrew’s death, Mr. Bianchi said, “The universities can only do so much, but when the national fraternities know these dangerous, illegal traditions are taking place and they turn a blind eye, they’re as guilty as anybody else because they are expecting the tradition to continue. I’m going to attack this problem from the top down and the bottom up.”

Andrew’s Law has been designed to do exactly that, and we couldn’t be prouder that representatives across the state have thrown their full support behind the law. Thanks to the leadership of the law’s sponsors, Senator Lauren Book and Representative Chip LaMarca, and the leadership of our own David Bianchi and Michael Levine, college students throughout Florida will return to safer campuses in the fall.