Friday, October 24, 2008

UT Fraternity Must Pay Millions for Hazing Death

Parents understandably experience a mixed set of emotions when they leave their children on a college campus for the first time. There is pride for the accomplishments of their son or daughter. There is also sadness knowing there is an empty bedroom that will wait until Thanksgiving break for its occupant to return. Unfortunately, there is also legitimate concern for the safety of these young men and women who will no longer be under daily supervision. Will they make smart choices? Will the school administration enforce the rules created to keep their students safe? As parents' minds wander through the potential dangers, it must be difficult even to fathom the possibility of death. This reality was experienced by the Cross family and, on Wednesday, the court spoke on their behalf.

Tyler Cross was a freshman at University of Texas-Austin and a pledge with the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity in 2006. He fell to his death from the fifth floor of an off-campus dormitory after a night of hazing that included drinking a half-gallon bottle of liquor. In days leading up to this tragic event, Tyler also had endured sleep deprivation, paddling and large quantities of alcohol. Now, a state district judge has ordered the national and University of Texas chapters of the fraternity to pay $16.2 million in damages to the parents of Tyler Cross. This was a default judgment, as the chapters never responded to the charges filed in September.

This ruling follows the sentencing of individual members of UT's Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity back in April. Two pledge trainers spent four days in jail and the chapter's president was ordered to complete 100 hours of community service and an alcohol awareness course. The Cross family expressed pleasure at the time of this ruling, since one of their primary intentions always has been to reduce the plague of campus hazing.

Binge drinking and fraternity hazing are sad facts of college life today. If you have a family member who has become involved in these unfortunate activities and criminal charges resulted, Bertolino LLP has attorneys who can help. Please contact our Austin, Houston, or San Antonio office today.

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