Blog : Injury & Death

A Deadly Haze

Doug Fierberg and And our Clients will appear in A Deadly Haze:  Inside the Fraternity Crisis, Airing on CNN Saturday, April 14th at 8pm ET

When gruesome details of the death of 19-year-old Penn State University sophomore Timothy Piazza became public, college Greek life and the country’s fraternity system came under intense scrutiny.  A wide-ranging investigation examining hours of video, text messages between fraternity brothers and eyewitness testimony led to one of the largest criminal indictments against a fraternity and its members in history.  Now, more than two dozen young men face criminal charges.  In Deadly Haze:  Inside the Fraternity Crisis airing Saturday, April 14th at 8pm ET on CNN, Alisyn Camerota takes an in-depth look at what happened to Piazza inside the walls of the Beta Theta Pi house and the alleged coverup that ensued.

Camerota speaks to Kordel Davis, a brother who witnessed the events of that night.  She also speaks with James Vivenzio, a former fraternity brother turned whistleblower, who describes the pledging process and what it’s like to be hazed.

With insight from Pulitzer Prize winning reporter and CNN Correspondent Sara Ganim, Deadly Haze delves into a fraternity system that has been called out for “rampant and pervasive” hazing in its Greek community. But the fraternity hazing crisis stretches far beyond Penn State.

Since 2005, there have been more than 77 fraternity-related deaths across the country. Some studies find that Greek Life comes with a 50% higher rate of sexual assault. Fraternity and sorority members also report excessive drinking four times higher than the average student. Despite those risks, young men still flock to fraternities. By all accounts, Greek life is as popular as ever – with more than 400,000 active fraternity members which is a 50% increase over the past decade.

As millions of young people make the monumental decision of which college they should attend, do they and their parents know enough about the perils of hazing at universities across the country?  Even with Timothy Piazza’s tragic, high profile case, dangerous fraternity behavior continues on campuses across the country leading to at least three more deaths in 2017.

Deadly Haze will also stream live for subscribers on Saturday, April 14th via CNNgo (at CNN.com/go and via CNNgo apps for Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire, Samsung Smart TV and Android TV) and on the CNN mobile apps for iOS and Android. The documentary will also be available the day after the broadcast premiere on demand via cable/satellite systems, CNNgo platforms and CNN mobile apps.

About CNN Special Report CNN Special Report is the award-winning, in-house documentary unit focusing on in-depth and investigative reporting of major issues and events and the powerful human-interest stories that reflect our times.

Kordel Davis Speaks out Against Hazing Culture

If you see something, you shouldn’t be afraid to say something.

A client of ours, Kordel Davis, conveyed this message at University of Missouri’s No Hazing event as he spoke  about the dangers of hazing culture through his own experience. In February 2017 Davis knew something was wrong when his friend, pledge Timothy Piazza, sustained injuries after forced binge drinking at the Beta Theta Pi fratenity at Pennsylvania State University, but fraternity brothers prevented Davis from getting help because they feared the consequences to their fraternity. Piazza’s life was lost as a result. Kathryn Palmer writes for the Missourian:

Davis told his story to about 50 MU fraternity members and Greek life alumni on Saturday in a Neff Hall auditorium and offered suggestions for how universities can better prevent hazing on campus.

“Pledging can be done in a not so dangerous way. I’m not exactly sure what that looks like now, but the crazy drinking is not really necessary,” said Davis, who revealed that the fraternity brothers also forced him to drink excessive amounts of alcohol during his initiation.

Strengthening university policies and raising awareness about the dangers of alcohol abuse were a couple of his suggestions.

Sigma Chi faculty adviser and law professor Ben Trachtenberg invited Davis to speak after reading about the investigation into Piazza’s death in The Atlantic last November.

“Anyone who reads about an event like that in Greek life and says, ‘That could never happen in my frat,’ isn’t paying attention,” Trachtenberg said.

Davis, who has since transferred to Rutgers University in New Jersey, went into gruesome detail about the night of Piazza’s death.

The 19-year-old Penn State sophomore sustained a brutal fall after a night of forced binge drinking at the fraternity house. Although he had visible bruising from internal bleeding, the fraternity brothers waited over 12 hours before seeking help. In that time, Davis came to the house and urged his fellow fraternity members to call 911. In response, they threw Davis against a wall. Fraternity officers warned him not to call for help because they were afraid of being punished.

Davis said his gut told him that something larger was afflicting Piazza, who was indeed suffering from a ruptured spleen, but that other members’ cavalier attitudes made him second-guess himself.

“If I could go back, I would have called 911 myself, but that would have meant going above my vice president and president,” Davis said. “I would have gone above them.”

Davis said the biggest problem with hazing culture is the way it discourages intervention in dangerous situations like Piazza’s. He suggested an amnesty policy could encourage more people to seek help without fear of repercussions.

Davis’ visit to MU was timely, as the campus has also found itself at the center of numerous hazing-related scandals and investigations over the past several years.

Between 2014 and 2016 almost half of MU’s fraternities were placed on probation and three chapters suspended, in the wake of a variety of hazing and assault allegations.

Tina Bloom, a professor at the MU School of Nursing whose research focuses on violence prevention, spoke alongside Davis.

“Knowing the signs of alcohol poisoning, awareness and equipping people with tools on how to help is necessary, but it’s not sufficient,” Bloom said. “It is incumbent on all of us to realize this happens at all levels, because policy changes just directed at sororities and fraternities won’t solve the problem.”

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Death of Mitchell Hoenig, a Phi Gamma Delta Fraternity Member

A University of Minnesota Student, Mitchell Hoenig, died due to excessive drinking.

Mitchell Hoenig, a 20-year old UMN student, member of Phi Gamma Delta fraternity, and a College of Biological Sciences Dean’s List honoree, lost his life after a night of partying. He was hospitalized Friday, February 23, and unfortunately passed away two days later due to alcohol poisoning. Minnesota Daily reports:

 

Hoenig attended two Gamma Phi Beta events (Feb. 24) — a pre-party and a date party — the Thursday night before his cardiac arrest, and the Minnesota Daily could not confirm what he did after the two events. He was drinking at the pre-party, one Gamma Phi member said, along with other minors, according to two members and a date party attendee. Hoenig also had access to alcohol at the date party, according to photos and a Gamma Phi member, but it’s unclear if he drank there.

An ambulance called to The Marshall apartment building in Dinkytown, 515 14th Ave. SE, at 5:18 a.m. transported Hoenig to the Hennepin County Medical Center. The Minnesota Daily was unable to confirm Hoenig’s activities between the Greek events and ambulance call.

He was on life support for the next two days and was pronounced dead on Feb. 25 at 12:41 p.m.

The University of Minnesota Police Department and Minneapolis Police Department had no reports on file related to Hoenig’s death. The University is not investigating the incident.

“Our son Mitchell enjoyed life [to] its fullest. Unfortunately, excess alcohol resulted in his death. While this does not in any way define our son, our hope is that this incident reminds everyone to look out for one another,” Hoenig’s parents, Aaron Hoenig and Ann Hoenig, wrote in a February Facebook post sent to the Minnesota Daily by a University spokesperson.

Hoenig’s parents opposed the publication of this story in conversations with the Minnesota Daily.

“Mitchell was a valued member of our community and we join his family in continuing to mourn his loss. It is disappointing that the Minnesota Daily is choosing to publish a story against the wishes of the Hoenig family, who we continue to support and work with as they grieve,” Maggie Towle, the University interim vice provost for student affairs and dean of students, said in an emailed statement through a University spokesperson.

‘An awesome friend’

More than 100 of Hoenig’s friends, family and classmates attended his memorial at Coffman Union on Feb. 28.

Hoenig was described as outgoing, charismatic and funny at the memorial. He quickly made friends inside and outside of his fraternity after moving nearly 1,000 miles from Texas to Minnesota.

“He was an awesome friend, as evidenced by the number of friends showing up here tonight,” Dan Olson, Hoenig’s uncle, said at the memorial. “It’s a real tribute to his friendship knowing that Mitchell lived in Minnesota for less than two and a half years and can fill a room this size, while hundreds more are watching online.”

Hoenig was an organ donor, and at the end of the memorial, his sister read out loud who received his organs. A 67-year-old man received his heart, a 66-year-old man received his lungs, a 63-year-old man received his liver, a 44-year-old man received his pancreas and one of his kidneys and an 11-year-old girl received his other kidney.

Click here to access the full article.

The Fierberg National Law Group and School Violence Law offer our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Mitchell Hoenig.

Hazing Death of Timothy Piazza – Serious Charges Dropped

A Judge has Dismissed Serious Charges against defendants for the Hazing Death of Timothy Piazza not once, but twice.

For the second time, Pennsylvania Judge, Allen Sinclair, has tossed out the most serious allegations against 11 Pennsylvania State University fraternity brothers who were arrested following the hazing death of Timothy Piazza last year. This sends a dangerous message to fraternities across the nation that life threatening hazing practices resulting in death and injury will be taken lightly in court. PUSH, Parents United to Stop Hazing, has released the following statement regarding the dropped allegations against the defendants for the hazing death of Timothy Piazza:

Friday, March 30, 2018: We, the members of Parents United to Stop Hazing (PUSH), want to convey in the strongest possible terms our outrage and profound disappointment in the ruling issued by Pennsylvania Magistrate Allen Sinclair in the hazing death of 19-year-old Timothy Piazza.

The most serious charges against the defendants in Tim’s case were dismissed not once, but twice! That sends exactly the wrong message to students who are a part of Greek Life: That they may engage in any criminal or dangerous behavior, including hazing; and will face little consequences for their actions. What a missed opportunity!

To deter criminal behavior of fraternity members, as well as those belonging to other campus-based groups like band, athletics and the military from engaging in reckless activity that can result in sexual assaults, serious physical and emotional harm, and in the worst case, death, the punishment needs to fit the crime. We ask the magistrate, what is the value of a life? What was the value of Timothy Piazza’s life? What is the value of the life of any young person in America and what should the punishment be when that life is recklessly stolen?

After reviewing a treasure trove of video and cell phone evidence revealing exactly what happened to Tim and the real-time response from his “so-called” Beta Theta Pi brothers, two seasoned prosecutors –one county, one state— determined that the defendants should be charged with very serious crimes that could result in lengthy prison sentences if they were convicted. But, perhaps in the most disturbing chapter in this tragic tale is that Magistrate Sinclair, made the unilateral decision to dismiss those most serious charges. Judge Sinclair may not realize it, but his ruling will make it more dangerous for students involved in Greek life and puts at greater risk any student on any campus in America, who makes the fateful decision to attend a Greek event. This ruling is a nod and a wink to all frat boys that they will not be held accountable for their actions, even if someone dies!

PUSH was created to end these types of injustices, and as the nation’s consciousness is focused on keeping our children safe, we will unite in strength with other parents to bring needed change and protect our kids.

The Fierberg National Law Group and School Violence Law send our sincere condolences to family and friends seeking justice for the loss of Timothy Piazza. Our firm has defended families and victims affected by fraternity hazing deaths and injury for over 20 years. We continue to ensure fraternities and fraternity brothers are held fully accountable for their misconduct.

Parents of Andrew Coffey Push for New Hazing Law

Andrew Coffey’s Parents Push for New Hazing Law after Death of FSU Pledge

The dangers of hazing and excessive drinking are becoming increasingly more apparent. The parents of Andrew Coffey, who lost their son due to alcohol poisoning after a fraternity party, are pushing to make hazing a federal crime. CBS reports:

In a story you’ll see only on “CBS This Morning,” we hear from the parents of Florida State University student Andrew Coffey, who police say died from alcohol poisoning after a fraternity party. Parents Tom and Sandra Coffey are pushing for a new law against hazing.

“If this can go to Washington, D.C., it could be the Andrew Coffey Law. Is that something you’d like to see?” CBS News correspondent Tony Dokoupil asked them.

“Yes. Yes,” Tom said

“Yeah. Yeah, can’t be for nothing. I mean, I don’t—” Sandra said.

“Yeah, he can’t have died for nothing,” Tom said.

“No,” Sandra said.

“There has to be purpose,” Tom added. “And if people in the past had gotten together, maybe my son would still be here. … It just can’t go on. It can’t go on anymore.”

The Coffeys tell us how they’re trying to save lives by making hazing a federal crime.

Watch Tuesday, March 13, 2018, on “CBS This Morning,” which airs from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. ET/PT. 

The Fierberg National Law Group and School Violence Law, a team of lawyers experienced in defending victims and families affected by fraternity hazing deaths and injury, extend their sincere condolences to the family and friends of Andrew Coffey.

Parents Who Lost Children Take Aim at Hazing

Photo: Courtesy of Leslie Lanahan

Debbie Smith, founder of the non-profit AHA!: Anti Hazing Awareness, will host an inaugural meeting of families who have lost their children to Greek life misconduct on university campuses all across the nation.

The group plans to strategize on how to accomplish several key goals, including getting better educational programming in middle and high schools, strengthening state and federal laws on hazing, and changing the culture on college campuses, said Smith, a San Francisco Bay area resident, who uses the initials “MM” after her name for “Matt’s mom.” The parents have invited anti-hazing advocates and college student affairs administrators to speak. There are no plans to raise money, but that could change once a platform is developed, Smith said.

Read the full article on The Inquirer.

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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.