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Kappa Sigma Hazing Incident Leaves UVA Student Comatose

Last Tuesday, a party at the Kappa Sigma fraternity house at the University of Virginia ended in tragedy when an intoxicated pledge fell down the stairs and struck his head. He remains comatose one week later. The Division of Student Affairs investigated and reported the incident to the student-run University Judiciary Committee, which suspended Kappa Sigma.

The national organization quickly distanced itself from the local Kappa Sigma leadership.

"Hazing is disgusting and is not tolerated by the Kappa Sigma Fraternity as it violates our Code of Conduct," Leo Brown, a spokesperson for the national fraternity organization, said. "Kappa Sigma will take swift and severe actions against the membership of those credibly involved in hazing."

Kappa Sigma’s swift condemnation of their nearest campus affiliate might be explained by two things: one, in Virginia, hazing can be charged as a felony when it involves severe injury. Two, Kappa Sigma is the same fraternity where Chad Meredith was hazed and subsequently drowned in a hazing incident at the University of Miami that resulted in the largest fraternity hazing verdict in the country. David Bianchi from our firm represented Chad’s parents in that case. It remains the largest hazing verdict to this day.

Does Hazing Awareness & Education Work?

Virginia lawmakers have begun to take hazing seriously in recent years. In 2021, a Virginia Commonwealth University student named Adam Oakes died in a hazing ritual at a Delta Chi fraternity house. In response, state lawmakers passed Adam’s Law the following year, which mandated hazing education and training at Virginia colleges.

The anti-hazing mood inspired by the law led to more reporting on campuses. Later that year, the UVA University Judiciary Committee received reports of hazing incidents committed by the women’s gymnastics club and University Guide Services—proof that hazing is common to fraternities but not limited to them. It seemed that the hazing awareness and education approach was working.

But now there’s this story. A traumatic brain injury severe enough to leave a young man comatose is likely to cause long-term impairment if he is fortunate enough to regain consciousness.

This incident confirms what Attorney David Bianchi has publicly voiced in previous interviews: the only way to prevent hazing is by incentivizing fraternities to police themselves. There are two ways to do this, one of which has precedent in Adam’s Law: immunity from hazing prosecution for the first person to call emergency services after a hazing injury occurs; and, two, immediate expulsion of all fraternity officers and event planners involved with the hazing, regardless of whether they were physically present at the event.

"The common denominator in every fraternity injury or death case that I've had around the United States has always been alcohol,” David Bianchi said to CBS19. "If criminal charges are filed aggressively by the prosecutors, if they seek maximum sentences, if universities expelled these guys immediately, that would get out to the fraternity members and I think you'll start to modify behavior.”

Fraternity officers commit hazing because the consequences are too remote for them. If a student leader knew that they would be immediately expelled from school for any hazing activity from their organization, student organizations would do a much better job of policing themselves.

Education and awareness have a role to play.

Our hazing attorneys have spent decades traveling the country and speaking at various campuses because we believe that hazing prevention awareness is still critical. But prevention needs teeth, and university administrations that don’t purge their campuses of hazing culture risk allowing it to grow and thrive in secret.