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Student hazing death sparks wrongful death suit

This year Atlanta's Georgia Dome hosted the 24th annual Bank of America Football Classic. Southern University battled its long-time rival Florida A&M University, but football spectators among the stands likely couldn't help but notice A&M's marching band was conspicuously missing.

The reason the marching band was absent was because its entire group was on suspension after a member died in a fatal accident. Apparently, last fall, a drum major was beaten so badly by his fellow band mates in a hazing ritual that he passed away from his injuries. The student's parents have since filed a lawsuit for wrongful death against Florida A&M University.

Sadly, nothing can be done to bring this young DeKalb County man back to his loved ones. But anyone who loses a family member due to a deadly injury caused by the negligence, carelessness or reckless conduct of another person can sue the responsible party for wrongful death.

Under the legal theory of negligence, people must treat one another with the same standard of care a reasonable person would exercise under the same or similar circumstances. Though it is for a court to decide, it would be hard to claim that hazing a fellow band member to death is reasonable conduct. And because the students should have been under the supervision of A&M University, the institution may be a liable third party.

If the drum major's parents are successful in their suit, a court may award them compensation for the student's medical bills, funeral expenses and loss of future income, as well as his family's pain and suffering and loss of companionship.

The death occurred back in November and the suit is in the early stages in a Florida court. In one recent filing with the court, the school responded to the suit saying that the victim had signed a waiver acknowledging he knew the risk of being a hazer or hazee. The school says he opened himself up to danger and so the institution can't be held responsible.

Source: WAGA-TV, "FAMU marching band will be absent at Atlanta Football Classic," Oct. 5, 2012; CBS News, "Florida A&M University wants Robert Champion lawsuit thrown out or delayed until criminal charges resolved," Sept. 11, 2012

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