|By DiMaria, Frank|
As 17-year-old freshman at the Univer^5sity of
Seccuro had been raped.
She went to the
Seccuro got little satisfaction from authorities, but eventually got on with her life. Still, the trauma of being raped always haunted her.
Twenty years later out of the blue she received a letter from the man who had raped her. As part of his
Seccuro brought the emails to the
This story fascinated
"The fraternity houses were so big and beautiful and impressive and I instantly sensed that they were also very powerful places. And yet I was always told never to go there unless I was with friends because there was a lot of rape that went on in them. I remember thinking this was all very astonishing that the university would have this very formal connection with these institutions that had a lot of rape. That interested me," says Flanagan.
This interest in the power of fraternities compelled her to investigate them, and in particular court cases involving fraternities. For an entire year she researched hundreds of court cases in which college students were seriously injured or even died in and around fraternity houses.
One of the more prominent cases involved
After a year of investigation Flanagan wrote a 15,000-word article for The Atlantic titled "
During her research she interviewed
Flanagan was determined to find out just how much money was being awarded in fraternity lawsuits. Try as she might, though, she could not dig up any numbers. "I saw there was huge amounts of money flowing. I kind of used that old Watergate idea of 'follow the money' but nobody has any numbers," says Flanagan.
In 1992, four fraternities created the
Although personal injury lawyers stand to reap enormous financial rewards from this segment of tort law, fraternity litigation is not for garden-variety personal injury lawyers. It takes special expertise to try such cases. "Big cases that could have brought in significant damages have been dismissed with summary judgment in the past because lawyers were so inexperienced," says Flanagan.
Many personal injury lawyers with little or no experience trying fraternity cases have a knee-jerk reaction and name everyone involved in their suits, like the fraternity chapter and the institution hosting the fraternity. This is a big mistake. "It's very hard to recover money from the college or university because it's protected by all sorts of things from sovereign immunity to damage caps. There's a lot of ways institutions of higher learning are indemnified from the fraternity," says Flanagan.
Even a seasoned personal injury lawyer can have limited success suing fraternities, which over the years have become very clever at protecting their assets. Some lawyers make the mistake, says Flanagan, of suing the chapter. "The chapter doesn't have any money. The chapter doesn't even own the fraternity house. The fraternity house is owned by a housing corporation," says Flanagan.
The mid- 1980s saw a sea change in tort litigation, as personal injury cases underwent a shift to the plaintiff's advantage. To protect themselves from personal injury litigation, fraternities began untangling their assets. Nowadays the most experienced personal injury lawyers representing clients injured in frat houses sue the national organization of the fraternity and almost no one else save the individual members involved in the incident.
Lawyers are not the only ones who make mistakes in fraternity lawsuits. Frat bothers named in a lawsuit assume that the national organization will protect them legally. After all, a portion of their pricey fraternity dues goes to insurance. But they couldn't be more wrong.
The national organizations cleverly indemnify themselves from their own members by creating mies so strict and hard to follow that they make tax code read like a Dick and Jane book. When a frat brother is involved in an incident that causes injury or death and a lawsuit ensues, and if the national discovers the brother broke any of the fraternity's mies, he is automatically no longer a member.
Most incidents at frat houses that cause injury or death are linked in some way to alcohol. In fact, after studying hundreds of these cases, Flanagan couldn't find one in which alcohol did not play a role. Rules about alcohol consumption at frat houses are very strict as outlined by the
The rules surrounding alcohol consumption at frat houses are so strict that on any given night of the week any number of rules are being broken by frat brothers. Therefore, when an injury occurs the nationals almost always have a legal loophole.
"When someone tries to sue us as Sigma Nu because of what you did as a member they'll say, 'the minute (he broke a rule) he was no longer a member.' So it's a catch 22 for all involved. This is one of the reasons it's hard to recover money from a fraternity," says Flanagan.
The national organizations are 10 steps ahead of those who try to sue them, she says. Most families who send their son or daughter off to college never think that their loved one could come to harm at a fraternity house. "The fraternities are very well prepared. They know these incidents happen every year and they're waiting for you to bring a lawsuit and they've developed many legal theories to get out of it," says Flanagan.
To insulate themselves from legal troubles, national organizations keep their local chapters at a safe distance, and for good reason. If the nationals involve themselves in the rule-making process and actively ensure that these rules are followed, it establishes a duty of care. "So if you're over there three times a year reviewing yet again the date rape policy and a girl gets date raped then the parents who are suing can say, 'you clearly knew date rape was a problem you gave three separate seminars.' This is the motivation for the nationals to be hands off on the locals," says Flanagan.
If fraternities are such a problem at universities why do universities enter into relationships with them? The answer is simple: money. "Fraternities are connected to deep amounts of money that are given back to the colleges. The boards of trustees and the presidents are a little bit afraid to irritate the fraternity members. In a lot of ways the fraternities are more powerful than the colleges," says Flanagan.
In addition to donating money to colleges, frats make schools appear attractive to prospective students by acting as a powerful recruiting tool for them. When kids visit and see an active, lively Greek row they say "I like this school, there's a lot of partying here. I'll have fun here," says Flanagan. Hook, line and sinker.
One in eight college men belongs to a fraternity. After spending a year researching fraternities, Flanagan is still not sure if the dark power of fraternities outweighs the positive influence they have on their members. Many individuals reached out to Flanagan indicating that being a frat brother was the best thing that ever happened to them. "It's where they learned about business and running something on their own. The leadership you get from a fraternity is matchless on campus. These guys are running the houses themselves. They're given a budget, they collect the rent, they're collecting the dues, they're running the chapter meetings. In a sense, byjoining a fraternity, you're getting to run a small business," says Flanagan. "What's more not many clubs or organizations can match the connections one can make through fraternities in power fields like investment banking and politics."
Flanagan warns those who are interested in joining a fraternity to choose wisely. "You don't want to join the Animal House of today where there is binge drinking every night. But there is a lot to be gained by (joining a fraternity) ."0
The fraternities are very weil prepared. They know these incidents happen every year and they're waiting for you to bring a lawsuit and they've developed many legal theories to get out of it."
|Copyright:||(c) 2014 The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education|