Corporate Accountability and WorkPlace

3 Slimy Tactics National Fraternities Use to Avoid Responsibility For Death and Injury

National fraternities will go to great lengths to protect their millions.

A lengthy report from Bloomberg offers a sobering look at the lengths national fraternities will go to deflect responsibility for alcohol and hazing-related injuries and deaths. Reporter David Glovin found that these institutions, which collect more than $170 million in annual revenues, use an array of tactics to avoid paying compensation to people harmed on fraternity properties or during Greek life events. Bloomberg research shows that since 2005, at least “52 students died or five were paralyzed in incidents linked to fraternities.”

“Besieged by lawsuits alleging negligent supervision, some of the biggest national fraternities have limited insurance coverage they provide to members, shielded funds in hard-to-tap foundations and cast blame on local chapters with few or no assets,” Glovin writes.

Here’s a breakdown of three ways national fraternities avoid paying for the pain and death inflicted on their college-aged members, as reported by Glovin. 

1. Blaming the Chapter

One of the slimiest quotes from Glovin’s piece comes from a lawyer who represented 10 national fraternities. “Share the fun,” said James Ewbank in a statement posted online by the Fraternity Executives Association. In other words, deflect lawsuits for deaths and serious injuries to local chapters run by 18 to 22 year olds.

Glovin’s story follows the case of Lee John Myndhardt, a 28-year-old who became paralyzed at a Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity event at Elon University in Elon, North Carolina. When Glovin tried to sue the national chapter, which avoided responsibiilty by arguing that it had “no day-to-day control over the Elon chapter and no role in organizing a party where its rules were broken.”

“They want to wash their hands of the problem and say it’s their brothers’ fault, it’s their chapters’ fault,” said Brett Sokolow, a former advisor for Lambda, “These are million-dollar organizations that sponsor activities that are harmful.”

A judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by Myndhardt against Lambda, on the the grounds that the fraternity didn’t “assume a duty” to protect the Elon chapter or its members.

2. Rewriting Bylaws to Protect Assets

In April 2011, Cornell Sophomore George Desdunes died after members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon blinded-folded him, tied him up and forced him to drink a fatal dose of alcohol. A month later, SAE’s national office changed its bylaws to distance itself from the incident. Under the new guidelines, two subsections of SAE that deal with its charity and housing are no longer “part” of the national organization.

As Glovin reports, “Today, the Sigma Alpha Epsilon Foundation and the SAE Financial and Housing Corp., which together earned $4.6 million in 2010 revenue, are seeking dismissal from the lawsuit. They say they’re separate entities from the national fraternity, which had $5.5 million in revenue.”

3. Restricting and Controlling Members’ Insurance

When Lee Myndhardt couldn’t get compensation from Lambda national, he tried to collect from the fraternity-sponsored insurance company. No luck there.

Glovin reveals that not only will national fraternities defer responsibility to pay for the injuries and deaths of members, but they’ll also restrict their members from getting quality insurance payouts. Lambda requires all its members to buy insurance through James R. Favor and Co., which is owned by Lambda and other national fraternities, and places insurance with Liberty.

Liberty Corporate said Myndhardt lost his right to insurance because the party he attended violated Lambda policies, including rules regarding access to kegs and underage drinking, because everybody knows that fraternities discourage underage drinking. The judge ruled in Liberty’s favor.

Glovin reports that, “The risk of fraternity life is so great that only four insurers cover college-age men living together in chapter houses.”

[h/t/ Bloomberg, obviously]

Steven Hsieh is an editorial assistant at AlterNet and writer based in Brooklyn. Follow him on Twitter @stevenjhsieh.

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