In August, the North American Fraternity Council (NIC) adopted a policy that decreed “Each NIC member fraternity will adopt and implement a policy by September 1, 2019, that prohibits the presence of alcohol products above 15 percent ABV in any chapter facility or at any chapter event, except when served by a licensed third-party vendor.”
Chapman fraternities believe they will not be affected by the hard alcohol ban because they lack Greek housing and the parties held at fraternity members’ residences are not officially endorsed by the fraternity. This interpretation may not hold up under the law, according to at least one legal expert.
“Speaking to the rules that the NIC passed, it really doesn’t apply to Chapman because the ban was placed on fraternities with housing,” said Trystan Davis, Interfraternity Council President.
Though students consider homes that fraternity members rent together and host parties at to be frat houses, they are not official in the eyes of NIC, according to Davis.
“It’s affiliated student talk wise, but on paper, it’s not,” Davis said. “It’s kind of hard to pin a house that’s being rented by students as a Greek house.”
Doug Fierberg, an attorney that specializes in school law, hazing, sexual assault, and related topics, says that there are a number of legal theories under state law that enable victims to hold fraternities (national and chapters) and their members responsible.
Fierberg warned that Davis should proceed at his own risk.
“If they throw an event and someone gets hurt or killed I’ll be the first one to hold them responsible,” he said.
Chapters are self-managed by their members. Supervision is put in the hands of “18, 19, 20-year-olds who are often grossly intoxicated, poorly trained and completely unaware of the risks,” said Fierberg.
“They [fraternities] are not to be entrusted with that kind of supervisor responsibility because for decades its been proven they aren’t capable of doing things safely,” said Fierberg.
Fierberg has resolved dozens of cases nationally regarding hazing, wrongful death, and negligence by fraternities.
“We have argued that that management system itself, which is basically controlled by the national [fraternity], is dangerous,” said Fierberg.
Fierberg also argues that the members can be considered legal agents of the national fraternity. This can hold the national fraternity responsible for the misconduct of its agents.
Four alcohol-related fraternity deaths in 2017 prompted the North American Interfraternity Conference to order a ban on frats serving hard alcohol – unless the bartender is a licensed third-party vendor.
Even with a third-party vendor, fraternities can be held legally responsible depending on circumstance, according to Fierberg.
A wrongful-death lawsuit was filed against the Sigma Alpha Epsilon National Chapter in 2012 after an Arizona State University pledge, Jack Culolias drowned. Culolias was kicked out of a Tempe bar at a fraternity event for being too drunk. At least two fraternity members knew he was kicked out, which Culolias’ mother Grace Culolias claimed as gross negligence. His body was discovered weeks later in the Tempe Town Lake with the blood-alcohol content of 0.28 percent.
“Nearly all hazing and over-consumption deaths in the past two years have involved students consuming high-percentage alcohol beverages,” read a statement on the NIC’s website.
Some Chapman fraternity members claim they realize liability if someone drinks themselves into critical health and gets injured.
With the existence of the fraternity at stake, should there be an accident, senior finance major Wesley Hertel stated Delta Sigma Phi has decided not to serve hard liquor at their parties. He acknowledged that completely blocking out hard alcohol from events is beyond their control.
“People that go to events can bring it themselves if they really want it and they are responsible for their own actions,” said Hertel.
Fierberg emphasized that fraternity members are responsible to tell people to stop drinking or ensure the safety of guests, pledges and members of the chapter.
“Good luck is what I’ll say to the fraternity,” Fierberg said. “They’re all incredibly inexperienced and poorly trained to deal with these situations.”