The Indiana Supreme Court both affirmed and reversed a trial court's grant of summary judgment in a fraternity injury case.
In Yost v. Wabash College, Brian Yost was a freshman at Wabash College who pledged at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity and suffered injuries at the fraternity house in 2007. Yost claimed that these injuries were due to a fraternity hazing incident and filed a lawsuit against Wabash College, the local fraternity, the national fraternity, and one of the fraternity members. The college, which owns the fraternity house, and two defendants sought summary judgment against Yost's claims, which the trial court granted. Yost then appealed to the Indiana Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court looked at each of the claims against the defendant to see whether they met the standard of summary judgment: whether there was no genuine issue of material fact, allowing the defendant to receive judgment as a matter of law. First, the Supreme Court looked at the claim against Wabash College. Wabash College argued that it did not have a duty as a college or landlord to protect Yost from a fraternity member's alleged negligence or criminal attack, and that it was not subject to vicarious liability for the actions of any codefendant. The Supreme Court concluded that Yost could not establish facts that Wabash College acted as a landlord and undertook duties designed to protect Yost from dangers on the property. Wabash College's policy on hazing was not enough to establish a landlord-guest special relationship.
The Supreme Court then looked at the claim against the national fraternity and found that Yost had not established facts that the national fraternity had a principal-agent relationship with the local fraternity, and therefore that the national fraternity was not liable for actions of the local fraternity. The national fraternity only provided networking opportunities and a brand to the local fraternity, and otherwise showed no management or control over the resident members that would suggest a principal-agent relationship.
However, the Supreme Court reversed the trial court's summary judgment decision for the local fraternity, finding that Yost had established enough facts to create a dispute as to whether the local fraternity was negligent in its duty to supervise the residents. Although the local fraternity was not a landlord, it did exercise supervisory authority over the residents, providing mentoring through a Pledge Father and activities for the residents to participate in. The Supreme Court also determined that Yost could move forward with his claim for punitive damages against the local fraternity. Punitive damages are awarded to deter and punish wrongful activity, and Yost had provided enough facts to establish a dispute as to whether punitive damages were warranted in this case, since the local fraternity allegedly encouraged much of the behavior that led to Yost's injury. Therefore, the Indiana Supreme Court reversed the lower court on two issues and remanded the case for further proceedings.
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