The stereotype of college fraternities and sororities is depicted in scenes from the 1970s movie, Animal House, where debaucherous young men cause chaos and seek promiscuous young women. Those images still exist, but concerns over binge drinking, sexual assault and other forms of violence on campus at Greek organizations has resulted in increased litigation. Defendants may include individuals, the local chapter, the national chapter and the college itself.
While many of these cases make major headlines, some are much more benign – but sometimes no less damaging.
Take the recent sorority liability lawsuit out of Ohio, where an undergraduate member suffered a severe leg injury while trying to exit a door of the home. Her case is predicated on the legal theory of premises liability. This is the notion that owners and managers of property have a responsibility to those legally on site to protect them from danger that isn’t obvious, or at least warn them of it.
Laws vary from state-to-state, but generally in order to prevail on a premises liability case, one must prove defendant had actual or constructive knowledge of the hazard. So defendant either knew about it or should have known about it. Where there isn’t evidence defendant created the hazard or received some notification of it in writing, most cases will be proven through constructive knowledge. That usually means showing that had defendant acted with reasonable care, the hazard would have been discovered.
In this case, a former Chi Omega member at Ohio University alleges she was simply exiting a doorway at the sorority house around 2 p.m. one November morning, hauling luggage from inside the house. She put her left leg outside the door as she faced the inside of the house to grab a piece of luggage. The front door reportedly had two doors that opened with a metal piece that overlapped each other. In technical terms, this type of set-up is known as a “T-Astrangal.” The doors were programmed to automatically close. As plaintiff propped the door open with her leg, she didn’t realize the door was going to shut on her and further, she didn’t know this component of the door was “razor-sharp.”
When the door closed on her leg, it reportedly severed completely her Achilles tendon, causing her to suffer immense physical pain. She was rushed to the hospital and has incurred substantial medical bills as a result.
The Achilles tendon is a strong, fibrous cord connecting the muscles in the back of your calf to your heel bone. Typically, a rupture is incredibly painful, and is best treated with surgery, according to the Mayo Clinic.
In this case, plaintiff alleges premises liability against the national chapter, arguing defendant should have known the door was dangerous to visitors and residents.
Defendant has countered, however, that it had no notice of knowledge of the issue, and further that plaintiff was negligent. This shifting of blame is known as “comparative fault.” In Ohio, plaintiffs are barred from recovering any damages if they are 51 percent or more responsible for what happened. In Florida, plaintiffs can recover damages even if they are 99 percent at-fault, though damage awards will be reduced by plaintiff’s percentage of fault.
If you have been injured in an incident at a sorority or fraternity in Florida, contact the Hollander Law Firm at (888) 751-7770 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.
Sorority chapter disputes claims in personal injury lawsuit, Oct. 4, 2015, By David DeWitt, The Athens News
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Port St. Lucie v. Follano – Accident Scene Photos in Injury Lawsuit, Oct. 21, 2015, Premises Liability Lawyer in Palm Beach