The family of a Texas University student who died at an off-campus Halloween party on October 28 has named 14 defendants in a $10 million wrongful death lawsuit. The party was sponsored by four fraternities associated with Texas State, according to reports.
Police said that around 11:15 p.m., a Skyline Party Bus lost its air braking system. The bus driver’s supervisor told the driver to leave the bus where it stopped and transfer to another bus. A mechanic arrived the next morning and found the woman’s body underneath the rear axle of the bus. Based on the investigation, the woman was hit by the bus and her body was dragged approximately 50 feet along the gravel road. It is believed that mechanical problems were a result of the collision with the student.
Court documents allege a laundry-list of factors contributed to the student’s death. The suit states that the event was “hosted by the four fraternity chapters” and 2,000 – 3,000 people were in attendance. In addition, the fraternities hosting the event provided alcohol to attendees without providing adequate security to ensure that no underage drinking occurred. According to event-goers, there were only approximately 4 – 5 security personnel at the entrance and they let guests enter the event without checking identification to determine their age. The lawsuit alleges that the deceased woman was served alcohol even though she was only 20. The lawsuit also claims that people at the event complained that the “buses traveled recklessly through the property, including travelling at a rate of speed that was unsafe around pedestrians.” The defendants include the bus company, the fraternities, and the premises owners.
It is common knowledge that most college students partake in activities that involve alcohol. That fact raises challenges for event organizers because some students are underage, but may still try to participate in the event. Making sure that guests stay safe is one of the responsibilities of a party host. When the event is held at a venue, the venue also has some responsibility for the safety of guests. The same is true when security is hired. This tragic incident shows that when any, or all, fail to uphold their responsibilities, injury or tragedy can occur.
When an individual, business, and/or other entity is responsible for the death of another due to negligence, family members have the right to seek compensation through a wrongful death lawsuit. In this case, the litigation process will most likely be a long road ahead. Each defendant will probably argue something slightly different. The fraternities may argue that the woman was responsible for her own death because of her ingestion of alcohol. They may argue that they hired Starline to prevent students from drinking and driving, but Starline failed to keep guests safe. Security might argue that the fraternities are accountable for the lack of security hired for the event. Starline may place blame on security for failing to check identification before allowing guests to enter the event. But, turning a blind eye or saying that it is someone else’s fault doesn’t make it so and it doesn’t improve safety.
Starline Tours has been involved in two crashes and has had five safety violations since last year. On April 2, 2016, one of the company’s bus’ was found in violation of not being equipped with an anti-lock brake system. The same bus also received a violation that day for having a defective brake warning device.
Party bus drivers have a duty to exercise the utmost care when transporting passengers under the law. When they fail to do so to even the slightest degree, they may be held to be held liable. Owners and owner-operators of tour buses are also deemed to be vicariously liable for the negligent acts of their employees.
Fraternities have long been marred by concerns about the role alcohol plays in Greek life. There are also many cases of hazing injuries and deaths. In an attempt to curb such dangerous behavior, many fraternities are exploring education and intervention programs. However, one study found that alcohol interventions have little to no effect of curbing drinking in fraternities. Still some researchers believed the situation isn’t hopeless. Developing a successful alcohol policy can be as simple as educating students about the dangers of excessive drinking, said Dr. Charles O’Brien, a psychiatry professor and the founding director of the Center for the Studies of Addiction at Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “Clearly we have to make an effort,” he said. “So many students are dying and not just overdoses, but from falling out of windows and from auto accidents.”
In January, Texas University suspended all four fraternities that allegedly hosted the Halloween party. Maybe suspension of Greek life from campuses will have more of an effect. What do you think?
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series. Mark Bello is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.