Texas Students Should Learn From Recent Fraternity Hazing Death

In the past several years, more people have taken notice of the extreme college hazing rituals pervading Texas universities. While sorority and fraternity hazing have been around as long as the organizations themselves, it seems that the severity of these hazing rituals has dramatically increased.

College hazing has always been taken to inappropriate levels at times, but today's college students live in a "YouTube era," where someone nearby always has a camcorder or cell-phone to record drinking-related antics. These video clips inevitably end up on the internet, where college students across the nation watch them. This fosters an atmosphere of competitive hazing across Texas campuses, where sorority and fraternity hazing sometimes escalate into rituals that blur the distinction between hazing and torture.

Texas students, universities, and fraternal organizations must break the "one-upping" mindset where each group feels pressured to outdo its fellow frats.

A recent hazing death demonstrates the shocking cruelty that alcohol-fueled students can exert upon freshman pledges.

Cornell Student Left in Fraternity Library to Die

Earlier this year, a 19-year-old student died in a fraternal hazing case that can only be described as barbaric. According to ABC News, the student, a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE), was kidnapped by fraternity pledges who blindfolded him and bound his hands and feet. The young man was then forced to drink alcohol until he lost consciousness and passed out.

Rather than rushing the student to the hospital, he was left - still bound - in the fraternity's library. Hours later, a housekeeper found the unconscious student and called 911. The hospital registered the man's blood-alcohol level at .409, an outrageous amount that was presumably even higher when SAE members first abandoned him. Tragically, the extent of alcohol poisoning was just too great; the hospital pronounced him dead.

While this deadly hazing episode occurred in the Northeast, Texas has had more than its share of hazing rituals that have gone too far. As a recent hazing of a Texas Christian University (TCU) student demonstrates, fraternity-related and hazing injuries are not contained to just freshman, either.

Hazing Problems in Texas

A TCU sophomore returned from a winter-break trip in Breckenridge, Colo., dealing with a lot more pain than just the skier sunburn of his fellow frat brothers. The young honor student was on the trip with his fellow Kappa Sigma members, blowing off steam after successfully completing another semester of college.

Because the sophomore and his buddies downed copious amounts of alcohol, the details are fuzzy but the outcome is clear. The next morning the young man woke up with an unbearable amount of pain on his backside. He discovered that his rear-end had been mutilated, seared with an undistinguishable mess of shapes left by a scalding hot coat hanger.

It appears that the man consented to some of the branding on his backside. But after the student fell into a heavy, alcohol-induced sleep, his "brothers" took liberties with his earlier consent. The Kappa Sigma members pulled his shorts down and continued the branding process, targeting another area of the young man's rear.

Things were taken too far. The TCU student will have to undergo an estimated six surgeries to repair his mutilated skin.

TCU is not the only University in Texas with a history of hazing.

University of Texas student Phanta "Jack" Phoummarath was 19 years old when he died from acute alcohol poisoning. As part of an initiation ceremony for Lambda Phi Epsilon, Jack and his six pledge brothers were required to chug a handle of Bacardi rum while more than 30 fraternity brothers chanted along, challenging the pledges' manhood and loyalty to Lambda Phi Epsilon, and encouraging Jack and his fellow pledges to quickly finish their bottles.

Once they finished, Jack and his pledge brothers lined up outside the fraternity house to accept gifts of alcohol. It was a sign of respect for the new members to drink the bottles in a similar chugging fashion. Jack eventually consumed so much alcohol he passed out. After Jack's fraternity brothers and little sisters finished defacing his body, they left Jack for dead. At the time of his death, the teen's blood alcohol level was five times the legal limit in Texas.

Several of the young men involved with the hazing of Jack Phoummarath pled no contest to criminal hazing; in doing so, their lives and the lives of their family members were altered forever. Each of these young men was required to perform community service, including alcohol awareness classes. Forty individuals and five other University of Texas campus organizations were sued for their liability in providing alcohol. The local chapter of Lambda Phi Epsilon was also suspended from the University of Texas for a period of five years.

With the proceeds from the litigation, Jack's family has built a temple in his honor and created an endowment at the University of Texas.

Hazing Cases Present Legal Difficulties, Not Impossibilities

When college hazing goes too far and extends into cruel and barbaric acts, it is important to hold the responsible parties accountable. While fraternities and sororities are always going to have fun — much of which will be regrettable the next day — the culture must be changed to show intolerance for instances of hazing that may cause severe injuries or death.

Unfortunately, establishing legal guilt can be difficult in hazing cases. While the resulting injuries or death are clear, it is something difficult to nail down the events causing the harm. Witnesses and victims are often extremely intoxicated — often forcibly — so establishing a timeline of events presents challenges. Further, fraternity brothers and sorority sisters may be reluctant to discuss details for fear of retribution from their fraternal organization or peers. This is why it is crucial to contact an attorney experienced in hazing cases.

A Texas hazing injury lawyer will work diligently to ensure that all at-fault parties are held accountable for their actions. Each case is different, but responsible parties may include individual students, the fraternal organization, and even the university. An experienced personal injury attorney will investigate the hazing and help the student or his family recover the damages they are entitled to under Texas law.