CHICAGO (CN) – The father of an Illinois college student who died at a Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity hazing event can sue individual fraternity and sorority members for not seeking medical attention for the unconscious pledge, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled Friday.
“A hazing injury is reasonably foreseeable and is likely to occur,” Justice Charles Freeman wrote for the court. “The magnitude of the burden of guarding against injury is small, and the consequences of placing that burden on the members are reasonable.”
David Bogenberger and 18 other pledges attended “Mom and Dad’s Night,” a mandatory pledge event for the Pi Kappa Alpha Eta Nu chapter of Northern Illinois University on Nov. 1, 2012.
The pledges were given a list of seven rooms in the fraternity house to enter in a designated order, where they were asked questions, and no matter what they answered, they were required to drink the vodka given to them, according to court records.
If they showed reluctance to drink, the pledges were allegedly called “pussies” and “bitches” until they drank.
Each pledge consumed three to five glasses of vodka in each room within an hour and a half. They were then taken to the basement, and given shirts and buckets decorated by sorority members to vomit in.
After they passed out, fraternity officers allegedly placed the unconscious pledges in positions so they would not choke on their own vomit, but instructed members not to seek medical care for them.
Bogenberger, 18, was found dead the next day with a blood alcohol level of 0.43.
Twenty-two Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity members were convicted of misdemeanor reckless conduct related to Bogenberger’s death in the largest hazing prosecution in U.S. history.
They were each ordered to pay a $1,000 fine and perform 100 hours of community service.
Bogenberger’s father, Gary Bogenberger, then sued the fraternity and fraternity members present at the event for negligence and wrongful death.
The father’s complaint was initially dismissed, but the Illinois Appellate Court’s First Division revived his claims in 2016, finding that the fraternity brothers assumed a duty to care for Bogenberger once he passed out.
The Illinois Supreme Court largely affirmed that decision Friday, ruling that Bogenberger may sue the local Pi Kappa Alpha chapter, but not the national fraternity, as well as individual fraternity members.
“Requiring the officers to comply with the law and the university’s and fraternity’s rules against hazing is an infinitesimal burden,” Justice Freeman said. “Placing that burden on the officers who are alleged to have planned, promoted, and participated in the hazing event is reasonable.”
Forty-four U.S. states, including Illinois, have an anti-hazing law in place. In addition, both Northern Illinois University and Phi Kappa Alpha International forbid hazing.
The state’s high court also found that the father may sue the 21 sorority members present that night, reversing the lower court on that issue.
“The message conveyed to the pledges, whether by the members or the nonmember women, was the same: Drink the vodka to become a member of the fraternity,” Freeman wrote. “The purpose of the hazing statute is to prevent hazing. We refuse to read into it such a loophole that would absolve a nonmember’s participation when the statute has no such limiting language.”
Justice Mary Jane Theis partially dissented, writing that she would find the national Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity also potentially liable for negligence.