Blog : Injury & Death

Lawsuit Filed on Behalf of Ooltewah High School Rape Victim

School Violence Law filed suit on behalf of the Ooltewah High School Rape Victim who was sodomized with a pool-cue by teammates.

The lawsuit, as reported by the Times Free Press, was filed in Federal court today, stating that district administrators and school employees knew a culture of abuse had been taking place for years, “and their failure to remediate this rampant abuse resulted in escalation of male student athlete’s harassment, hazing, and assaults of teammates.”

Our client’s (referred to as John Doe in the lawsuit) Title IX rights were violated, as the defendants knew violence and gender-based hazing was taking place and “created a climate in which such misconduct was tolerated, thus encouraging continued and repeated misconduct and proximately causing injury to John.

The Hamilton County Board of Education, former Ooltewah High School Principal Jim Jarvis, the school’s former Athletic Director Allard “Jesse” Nayadley and former boy’s head basketball coach Andre “Tank” Montgomery, were “reckless, grossly negligent and deliberately indifferent to the health, safety and welfare of the [victim].”

Attorneys for the victim, Douglas Fierberg and Monica Beck , along with co-counsel Eddie Schmidt, argue the Ooltewah High School Board failed to “exercise reasonable care to supervise and protect our client, and that Jarvis, Nayadley and Mongtomery’s negligent actions provided legal grounds to remove the board’s immunity.”

“Schools are required by federal and state law to prohibit violent hazing and gender-based violence,” Monica Beck said in a written statement to the Times Free Press. “This young man had a right to participate on the basketball team without sacrificing his physical and emotional safety to hazing traditions long known and tolerated by school officials.”

Fraternity Hazing and Sexual Assault BBC Documentary Features The Fierberg National Law Group

Frat Boys: Inside America’s Fraternities, aired last week to audiences across Europe, garnering rave reviews.

The hour long BBC expose dives deeper into U.S. Fraternity life, narrowly debunking and greatly personifying fraternity stereotypes that exist within the minds of Europeans, and let’s be honest, (non-Greek) Americans alike.

In the midst of toga parties and binge drinking, Douglas Fierberg and Cari Simon of The Fierberg National Law Group and School Violence Law cast a sobering light onto the common practices of hazing and sexual assault that run rampant within fraternity culture.  While our client, Terrance Bennett, bravely chronicles his experience as a Tau Kappa Epsilon (“TKE”) pledge, recalling in horrifying detail the hazing practices that led him to be hospitalized for weeks and nearly cost him his life.

“The film highlighted two disturbing statistics: that frat member students were three times more likely to commit sexual assault than non-members, and that violent initiations, known as “hazing”, have been responsible for a staggering 22 deaths in just eight years. More sinister still is that American universities have been complicit in keeping such occurrences out of the courts, and out of the news, because they receive 75 per cent of donations from fraternity members.”The Telegraph

The family of Harrison Kowiak, a 19 year old co-ed who died trying to join a fraternity, also shares their son’s story in the documentary. A football accident, his family was told, initially, took Harrison’s life.  Though, after commissioning their own investigation, Harrison’s family discovered he’d been killed during a hazing ritual in which pledge’s are taken to a desolate field in the black of night and told to capture a sacred rock while being tackled from all sides by fraternity brothers dressed in dark clothing.

Frat Boys: Inside America’s Fraternities will air in the United States Fall 2016.

Click here to read more about the BBC documentary as told by the British national daily newspaper, The Guardian.

Doug Fierberg Comments On Death Of Willem Golden In delawareonline Article

Willem Golden passed away after falling from the roof at University of Delaware Sigma Pi fraternity house.

With any devastating circumstance, questions mount – how does a community prevent future tragedies and who should be held responsible?

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The rooftop Willem Golden fatally fell from, at 153 W. Main St. in Newark. Xerxes Wilson/The News Journal

University of Delaware’s unofficial Sigma Pi house offers a text-book example of potential code violations, including broken glass, dangling electric cords, and a barbecue grill strapped outside a third-story window. And while over 1,000 fraternities in the International Conference have gone dry, Sigma Pi isn’t one of them.

Douglas Fierberg – a nationally acclaimed wrongful death attorney representing clients who have sued universities, national fraternities and local chapter members for alcohol-related student deaths – tells delawareonline: 

“Even if a party is held at an off-campus unofficial fraternity house, the hosts and the organization may still be liable. These organizations need to be rendered safe, there is no excuse for not intervening.”

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Students, faculty and staff gather at Skidmore College at a memorial for Willem Golden. Eric Jenks/Skidmore College

Fierberg represented the family of Brett Griffen, the University of Delaware student who died as a result of alcohol poisoning in 2008. The Griffen’s brought suit against University of Delaware calling for its Greek life websites to list all violations against fraternities and sororities.  Despite the attainment of policy change at University of Delaware, Fierberg urges families to remain cautious:

“Colleges and universities continue to publish vague information – if they publish it at all – about fraternity interactions, including deadly hazing rituals and sexual assaults. We’re still facing significant problems because most universities refuse to tell the truth about student deaths at Greek organizations.”

School Violence Law offers our deepest condolences to the Golden family during this difficult time.

Click here to read the delawareonline article in its entirety.

Altoona Mirror: Hazing Death Lawsuit is “Groundbreaking”

Doug Fierberg’s representation of hazing death victim, Marquise Braham, discussed in Altoona Mirror article.

The father of deceased Penn State Altoona student and fraternity member, Marquise Braham, is suing the university, the national Phihazing death victim, hazing wrongful death, hazing death, fraternity hazing death, wrongful death, wrongful death lawsuit, hazing wrongful death, hazing death lawsuit Sigma Kappa fraternity, two officers of the Altoona campus fraternity – Eric Traister and Andrew O’Connor – and others in Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas in the hazing death of his son.

The attorney representing Braham in the civil lawsuit, School Violence Law’s own Doug Fierberg of The Fierberg National Law Group, said Braham has a groundbreaking lawsuit that could change how universities nationwide supply information about fraternities:

“If we set the precedent that schools are obligated to tell the truth of student groups, it will change schools.” 

Fierberg is also the lead attorney in a hazing death case at Baruch College in New York City.

Read the full December 17 article here.

Indictment in Fraternity Death Case: Michael Deng

Press Release Announces Indictment in Fatal Hazing of Michael Deng.

Today’s press release from Pocono Mountain Regional Police Department announces the indictment of the fraternity and many of its members in the fraternity hazing death of Michael Deng.

On behalf of our client, Michael Deng, and his family, we applaud the police and district attorney’s office in taking this bold step in obtaining justice for Michael’s tragic, preventable death.  These individuals and their fraternity must and will be brought to justice.


In response to this news, Michael’s family released the following statement:

“Today, the parents of Michael Deng applaud the actions by the police, grand jury and Monroe County District Attorneys to bring criminal charges against the Pi Delta Psi Fraternity and its members for the tragic, entirely preventable hazing death of Michael.  Too many families have been devastated as a result of fraternity hazing, with at least one student dying every year from hazing since 1970.  Fraternities and their members must be held accountable, and this step by authorities is an important one.  Michael was a wonderful, beloved young man, and, in his honor, the family will also continue pursuing its wrongful death case against the fraternity to cause it and other fraternities to change so that other parents will be spared the loss of a precious child.”

“We Don’t Haze” Documentary from the Clery Center and former School Violence Law clients

The Clery Center has released a trailer preview of their newest resource for campuses – a free documentary addressing hazing on campus.

The 15-minute documentary, produced by the Clery Center, will be available in its entirety September 2015.

“We Don’t Haze” interweaves personal experiences of victims and their families to illustrate the effects of hazing and to inspire students to create safer campus communities.

Key takeaways include examples of hazing practices on campus and realistic alternative solutions that accomplish the positive goals of team building, unity, and positive group bonding.  The documentary addresses both how to recognize hazing and how to take realistic steps to prevent hazing on campus.

The Clery Center for Security On Campus (formerly Security On Campus, Inc.) is a nonprofit 501 (c)(3)  organization dedicated to safe campus communities nationwide. The organization was founded in 1987 by Connie and Howard Clery following the April, 1986 rape and murder of their 19-year-old daughter Jeanne in her Lehigh University dorm room. Her assailant, who is spending life behind bars without parole, was also a student at the school whom Jeanne did not know prior to the attack.

School Violence Law would like to applaud and thank our former clients’, the DeVercelly Family for their advocacy efforts through the Clery Center to prevent future hazing violence. Learn more about our initial results in 2009 following their son’s death.

Here’s to another school year that much safer because of their contributions

You can watch the FULL FILM here on the Clery Center’s website.

Learn more about how School Violence Law promotes safer campuses through hazing reform.

Universities and Fraternities Fail to Tell the Truth about Fraternity Rape, Fraternity Hazing and Other Misconduct

The investigative findings (state and federal) resulting from the massacre at Virginia Tech, along with other legal precedent, establish that the campus community is entitled to timely, accurate information about risks.  As the Report prepared at the request of the Virginia Governor provides, “Nearly everyone [on campus] is adult and capable of making decisions about potentially dangerous situations to safeguard themselves.”  Universities and fraternities must telling the truth and provide warnings to the adult students on campus concerning dangers facing them in seeking fraternity membership or participating in fraternity events.  If not, they may be liable for legal claims based upon fraud, negligent misrepresentation, violation of consumer protection statutes and other theories of law.

Virtually every university that allows Greek organizations to operate on campus enables them to use university resources, staff, and website.  Those resources are almost exclusively used to promote the organizations.  For example, one Ivy League university’s Associate Dean of Students posted a Parents’ Letter on the university website proclaiming that its Greek community is “among the best in the nation,” and a community that does not live up to the stereotypical “negative images portrayed in popular media.”  This communication is consistent with information generally parroted on university websites across the nation.  Yet, this information is false and misleading.  At the very time period covering publication of this statement, the university had documented:  204 incidents of social fraternity misconduct; 82 incidents of fraternity hazing; 3 sexual assaults in fraternity houses; and 9 incidents of fighting at fraternity houses.  Its statistics indicated substantial annual increases in misconduct and were consistent with national studies regarding fraternities, hazing, rape and related risks.  For example, the average FAQ webpage published by universities, including information posted for parents, poses questions that only highlight the purported benefits of Greek membership.  Some questions actually dissuade students and parents from considering the risks.

A prominent Midwest university posted similar pro-fraternity material and FAQs on its website, yet failed to disclose that there were 10 allegations of sexual assault involving fraternities during one recent semester.  Though two fraternities were ultimately disciplined as a result of such allegations, the University then failed to disclose that the sanctions were based upon allegations of rape and sexual assault.  Instead, the university wrote an opaque description of the incidents, stating that sanctions were warranted because the fraternities failed to “provide a safe environment during parties where alcohol is present.”  Whatever that means . . . .

Parents, students, and the campus community had no reasonable way of ascertaining that specific fraternities were disciplined because of sexual assaults reported by numerous female students.  There is no rational or privacy basis for the university – a state institution in this case – to withhold this information.  Women are entitled to know if the fraternity house they are invited to has recently been the scene of reported sexual assaults.  Women are entitled to know if the University and fraternities’ agreement to allow self-management by fraternities has proven to be unsafe.  Students must not be denied knowledge of the truth and opportunities to protect themselves from risks known by the university and fraternities.

The failure by universities to accurately and fully disclose known dangers and potential risks posed by Greek organizations may violate certain laws and enforceable legal duties.  This is true because it is generally established that a university’s exclusive knowledge of such risks may create a special relationship requiring timely, accurate disclosure of such risks.  Moreover, failure to disclose the truth may expose a University or fraternity to claims of fraud, as “a representation stating the truth so far as it goes but which the maker knows or believes to be materially misleading because of his failure to state additional or qualifying matter is a fraudulent misrepresentation.”  And, where there is evidence of an intentional misrepresentation, such as, perhaps, where a university specifically chooses to omit the words “rape” or “sexual assault” from the description of a fraternity’s sanction, a victim who subsequently suffers injury having been denied such truth and the opportunity to take action to prevent such harm may be entitled to punitive damages.  Of course, the law varies from state to state so the above information is not intended to provide particular legal advice to a particular person concerning the law in his/her state.  You should, however, check the law in your own state and, if represented by legal counsel, ask her/him about these issues.

In short, the law demands that universities and fraternities end the longstanding practice of obscuring the truth – or failing to warn – about the risks of Greek membership and activities.  Victims of these misrepresentations may have enforceable rights, and, perhaps, the legal power to change the way these institutions choose to do their business.

Wesleyan Fraternities to be Co-ed

Wesleyan University in Connecticut has ordered its residential fraternities to admit both men and women.  Fraternities have three years to complete the transition.  This policy change comes after a rash of injuries and assaults have recently plagued fraternity houses, including a recent fall from the Beta Theta Pi house that caused serious injuries to Summer Elbardissy.

Having represented two students seriously injured at Wesleyan fraternities before, including at Beta House, we are aware of the dangers.  We hope this change fosters a safer environment for everyone involved in Wesleyan fraternities.

Douglas Fierberg Featured In TIME Magazine

Douglas Fierberg founded the only nationwide practice and specialty of representing victims of violence in school-related incidents, and serves as lead counsel for victims of sexual violence, hazing and other crimes at schools and universities across the country.

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Co-author Chris D. DeJong is a litigation paralegal responsible for all aspects of legal claims on behalf of victims of sexual violence and other misconduct at schools and universities nationwide.

Universities and fraternities hide the truth about sexual violence on campus even though women need this information in order to protect themselves. While universities are required by federal law to publicly report certain incidents of crime, including rape, those reports are often inaccurate and never detailed. In fall 2010, there were between three and 10 allegations (the actual number remains guesswork) of women being raped at the University of Minnesota. At least three of those women alleged being raped in fraternity houses. The school lists the sanctions it imposed against fraternities on its website but sanctions issued during that time period are for the group’s failure to “provide a safe environment during parties where alcohol is present.” Rape was never mentioned.

Women are entitled to know if the fraternity house they may visit has allegedly been a scene of sexual violence. Worse yet, fraternity lawyers guard existing document of sexual violence at fraternities, most likely because the information would shock the public. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners ranked fraternities as the sixth worst insurance risk in this country, just behind hazardous waste disposal companies and asbestos contractors. One insurance broker for fraternities boasts of handling more than 6,000 claims and $60,000,000 in payouts. There are many hurt women in those numbers. Insurance brokers for the industry maintain and analyze statistics on sexual violence in order to establish premium rates. Fraternities and their insurance brokers have fought our attempts to gain access to these statistics. They’ve also blocked our efforts to obtain their analysis of alcohol-free housing (AFH), which one study concludes would reduce incidents of injury and death in fraternities by 75%. Those statistics will likely demonstrate that requiring fraternities to go AFH will spare many women from being plied with alcohol and raped.

Alcohol-free housing is critical because fraternities rely on underage, inexperienced, and often intoxicated fraternity members to protect women in chapter housing. These students are legally prohibited from managing the service of alcohol, yet they are given the green light by universities. The fox supervises the hen house, but this fox hurts people. Universities do not manage dormitories in this reckless manner. Obscuring the truth is not acceptable. Universities and fraternities must tell the whole truth so that students can understand the risks and protect themselves.

Read the article on Time Magazine’s website.

The Atlantic publishes “The Dark Power of Fraternities”

A yearlong investigation of Greek houses reveals their endemic, lurid, and sometimes tragic problems–and a sophisticated system for shifting the blame.

We were pleased to be interviewed and quoted extensively for this article. It is an important piece of journalism and a must-read.

By Caitlin Flanagan, published February 19, 2014

The Dark Power of Fraternities – The Atlantic