Nine individuals are facing charges after a fellow fraternity brother died from inhaling nitrous oxide. The drug, typically called “laughing gas,” is used as an anesthetic by dentists and often abused. The student’s parents have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the fraternity and nine fraternity members are being brought up on charges of involuntary manslaughter and reckless homicide. The university has since expelled the off-campus fraternity, but the brothers are more likely to face probation sentences than actual prison time.
The parents of the student have named the fraternity in a wrongful death action. The fraternity, they say, allowed students on the premises to abuse dangerous drugs and provided the fatal dose to one student. The case against the fraternity is strong, but fraternities do not typically have deep pockets. Universities, on the other hand, do. The question then becomes: Can the parents sue Ohio University for their permissive attitude toward fraternities?
In this case, it will be difficult for the parents to hold Ohio University liable for their son’s death. The university has responded by expelling the fraternity and has pledged to make renewed efforts to improve the culture and social life of their students. To hold the university liable, the parents would need to show that OU actively or passively facilitated or encouraged such hazing rituals on their campus or failed to adequately police social life at the university. The problem is, however, that the death occurred off-campus and the university has no liability in this matter.
Nitrous oxide asphyxiation can occur when the individual huffing the whippet becomes unconscious while they are huffing and continue to breathe in. Typically, if a person passes out while huffing, he or she will wake up minutes later and will not suffer any permanent damages. But that did not happen here. Those who use the substance, which is legal in Ohio, must be careful. Those providing nitrous oxide to others should at least understand some of the potential dangers involved. In this case, they did not. That does not, however, mean that the store that provided the nitrous oxide or its manufacturer are liable for the boy’s death. Most of this liability will fall on the fraternity for failing to provide adequate safeguards for the pledge.
If you have been injured because of someone else’s negligence, the attorneys at Lafferty, Gallagher, & Scott can help you recover damages related to your injuries. Talk to us today to set up a free consultation.
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