On Nov. 12, 2018, an 18-year-old student at Ohio University died at a house associated with the Sigma Pi fraternity. He was allegedly a victim of hazing.
The young student, a hopeful pledge to Sigma Pi, was surrounded by drug paraphernalia when paramedics reached him, including small canisters of nitrous oxide called "whippets." The official cause of the student's death has been listed as asphyxiation caused by the nitrous oxide inhalation.
His parents have now filed a wrongful death suit against Sigma Pi International, the Epsilon chapter of Sigma Pi and 10 unnamed defendants -- presumably, the fraternity members involved in the hazing.
However, the fraternity says that the young man's death was just a regrettable accident and not hazing. It couldn't have been hazing, according to fraternity spokesmen, because the fraternity claims that the young victim was no longer a pledge at the time of his death.
The fraternity acknowledges that fraternity members were with the victim at a bar before going to the house where he died. They were also there when he asphyxiated and called for emergency assistance. Yet, they insist that he wasn't a pledge anymore because he'd been "removed from its pledging process" a couple of weeks before over allegations that he'd sexually assaulted a woman.
No charges were ever filed against the deceased student, and the case was closed. His parents and their representative have said that the allegations are untrue.
If so, it's a disingenuous ploy on the fraternity's part -- and it will definitely be an issue that will have to be decided based on whatever evidence can be provided by both sides to bolster their claims. It's worth noting that the University certainly seemed to hold the fraternity accountable for the death -- it ordered the chapter closed and hasn't permitted it to reopen.
Cases like this are a sharp reminder that wrongful deaths from hazing still happen with alarming regularity -- despite laws and rules against hazing. If the loss of a loved one through someone's deliberate or negligent actions has left you unsure what to do next, it might be time to learn more about your legal options.