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During Florida State University's Alpha Epsilon Pi chapter meetings, members select a "brother of the week" and a "scumbag of the week." Members would then spin a game-show style wheel to determine the latter's punishment, ranging from cleaning the frat's house alone, licking the chapter room floor, a free pass, or being slapped. Unfortunately for Nicholas Mauricio, he spun the last option.
Another AEPi member, Oliver Walker, stood in front of Mauricio, shook his hand, and then hit him "as hard as he could," according to witnesses, possibly with a closed fist. Mauricio was knocked unconscious, hit the floor, and was rushed to the hospital. Now he's suing his attacker and other frat leadership.
While there is a tendency to downplay fraternity hazing as college student hijinks, the consequences in Mauricio's case are dire. He lost a tooth from being struck, was hospitalized with a skull fracture and brain bleeds, and spent five days in intensive care at the hospital. Mauricio suffered frontal lobe damage, and, since the April incident, has experienced memory problems, migraines, and paranoia, all of which have prevented him from returning to school, according to his lawsuit.
The fraternity "owed a duty to Mauricio to act in a non-negligent manner," the suit claims. "The duty included but was not limited to ensuring that dangerous traditions that had the very real potential to be carried too far and cause serious injury were not continued."
"There seems to be no end to the hazing that occurs at fraternities despite the passage of tougher laws and the warnings from universities," Mauricio's attorney David Bianchi said. "This is yet another absurd tradition that AEPi has been carrying on for too long and no one in the leadership of the local or national fraternity cared enough to end it even though they knew it was going on." Bianchi is also representing the family of Andrew Coffey, another FSU student who died of alcohol poisoning in November during an off-campus fraternity party. Civil lawsuits often follow hazing injuries, and can be based on intentional actions, like assault, battery, and infliction of emotional distress, as well as unintended results like negligence.
Certain states have criminal hazing laws as well, even if they are tough to enforce. While Walker was charged with culpable negligence inflicting injury and battery in Mauricio's case, prosecutors declined to charge him with violating the state's hazing statute. Additionally, a judge tossed out felony hazing charges against members of Coffey's frat. Coffey was coerced into drinking an entire bottle of Bourbon at an off-campus Pi Kappa Phi party last year, but Leon County Circuit Judge Martin Fitzpatrick found the actions of four frat members didn't rise to the level of a felony. "The closest the State comes to such action is alleging that defendants created an opportunity for underage drinking," Fitzpatrick wrote, "and Mr. Coffey may have been encouraged to drink."
If you or a loved one has been injured in a hazing incident, contact an experienced personal injury attorney to discuss your legal options.