Wednesday, July 16, 2008

University of Texas Settles Fraternity Death Lawsuit

As the media has shared in several recent reports, binge drinking on our nation’s college campuses is on the rise. The ultimate tragedy that results from consuming multiple drinks in one night is the death of one of our young people. At least 157 college students drank themselves to death between 1999 and 2005. One of these students was Phanta “Jack” Phoummarath, a Houston native and freshman at the University of Texas. The family of the young man just settled with the fraternity and its members yesterday in court for $4.2 million.

Mr. Phoummarath was determined to have a blood alcohol level of 0.41 after a night of hazing at the Lambda Phi Epsilon fraternity, which is a blood alcohol level that is more than five times the legal limit in Texas. Three members of the fraternity pled no contest last fall to the misdemeanor charge of hazing and were sentenced to two years of probation. These young men, the president, pledge captain and always-illustrious “Hellmaster” at the time that Phoummarath died, will be required to apologize to the victim’s family. They also will pay a $1000 fine and complete 100 hours of community service.

Some of the settlement proceeds will go to produce an educational video called Enough is Enough. As Phoummarath’s father explains, "We do not want Jack's death to be in vain, and by this educational program, we hope to save families in the future from the great despair we have suffered from the loss of our youngest son."

The debate concerning responsibility over binge drinking fatalities is certainly a controversial one. At what point does overwhelming peer pressure and ridiculous rules established by a social organization supplant the need for an individual to make responsible decisions? Could the victim have refused more alcohol at any point? Obviously, the group mentality in this sad instance at University of Texas was strong enough to create criminal activity.

If the tragedy of a wrongful death has struck your family, please contact the Austin, Houston or Miami offices of Bertolino LLP. We have attorneys who can help you find justice for your loved one.

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