A student at Linfield College in Oregon is suing the university, his former fraternity, Pi Kappa Alpha, and the fraternity's president, William Samp, for an incident that occurred last April in which the student suffered injuries leading to the loss of his right eye. Kellen Johansen claims that the fraternity had been engaged in hazing, a practice which is illegal in Oregon and in all but six states.
On April 15th of 2016, Johansen alleges that he was participating in “a required ‘pledge' party to ‘initiate' students into ‘full' fraternity membership.” The fraternity members pressured him into drinking alcohol even though he was underaged at the time. He was then told to run naked through the campus "in front of a jeering audience" and retrieve illegal fireworks.
After all of this, the lawsuit then states that Pi Kappa Alpha's president, William Samp, ignited a rocket-type firework dangerously close to Johansen. Instead of shooting off into the sky, the firework allegedly exploded on the ground, sending flaming embers and shrapnel into Johansen's eye.
After multiple surgeries and failed attempts to restore vision and save the affected eye, surgeons at the Casey Eye Institute in Portland removed Johansen's eye in December of 2016.
The national chapter of Pi Kappa Alpha disputes core claims of the civil lawsuit brought by Johansen and his mother. For instance, a representative from the national organization says that the event in question occurred at a 3 am "informal gathering of only three individuals, all of whom were acting in their individual capacities without knowledge or authorization” of the fraternity.
The fraternity's statement goes on to allege that Johansen was attempting to record the firework's explosion with his cellphone against the advice and warnings of those around him. The video, says the fraternity, has since been deleted.
Two months prior to the accident, the fraternity had been placed on probation for failing to adhere to college drinking policies. Johansen's lawsuit alleges that the college may have been negligent for failing to check the fraternity's storage shed when they were taken off of probation, just before the accident occurred. In addition, it claims that the fraternity is “at fault for encouraging or failing to stop a dangerous culture of drinking and hazing.” Johansen and his mother are suing the national chapter and the university for $8.3 million.
The Director of Communications and Marketing for Linfield College, Scott Nelson, told university reporters that the school has been working “with the student's family to make housing and academic accommodations.” He then added, “This is a terrible accident. Fortunately, our student has been able to continue his studies and we look forward to him returning to campus.”
Although there are only six states in the US in which hazing is not illegal, the practice is still lamentably widespread. Young people who hope to join social organizations may feel pressure to perform dangerous acts in order to be accepted by their peers. If you or your child has experienced the repercussions of this unlawful act in Maryland, Pennsylvania, or Washington D.C, attorneys Charles Gilman and Briggs Bedigian can help you evaluate your options moving forward. Call them today at (800) 529-6162, or contact them online.