Famu Set To Enter Negotiations In Hazing Death Lawsuit

posted: 08/17/2012

The FAMU board of trustees voted yesterday to enter into mediation with the family of Robert Champion, the former FAMU student and band member that died last year in a band hazing incident. The attorneys for the Champion family recently added FAMU into a lawsuit that includes other parties such as the owners of the bus on which the hazing occurred. The delay in bringing FAMU into the lawsuit stemmed from procedural rules in Florida law that requires a 6 month waiting period before a state entity such as a state university can be sued.

Robert Champion's death grabbed national headlines last year. After performing at a football game with the famous FAMU Marching 100 band, Mr. Champion was forced to participate in a band ritual hazing event. The hazing involved Mr. Champion walking down the aisle of a bus while being savagely beaten. Mr. Champion died from the wounds inflicted during the beating on November 19, 2011. In the weeks that followed, much evidence was uncovered that the school was aware of the band's propensity for severely hazing and endangering its members. Still, the evidence suggested the university did nothing to stop the hazing.

While FAMU maintains that the decision to participate in mediation is merely a normal part of the legal process, the quickness with which the mediation will occur appears to be unique. If settlement does not occur, FAMU faces the risk of a lengthy discovery process and public trial that could uncover incriminating facts about what the university knew and did or didn't do to prevent hazing within the Marching 100 band.

The decision to enter into negotiations also brings up very important aspects of Florida law. Because the university is considered an agency or entity of the state of Florida, it is protected by a legal doctrine known as sovereign immunity. The concept of sovereign immunity, which has been codified in F.S. 768.28, provides that the state is only responsible for damages up to $300,000. While in many cases that may be a sufficient amount of money, it appears to do little justice in a case involving egregious facts and a dead 26 year old college student. In order to settle for more than the statutory cap of $300,000, FAMU either has to have insurance in excess of $300,000 or the Florida legislature has to approve the excess payment. Needless to say, this tragic case brings to light some of the potential flaws embodied in the sovereign immunity doctrine, which was developed from the old English concept that "you can't sue the king."

At Ward & Barnes, we represent the victims of negligence, including the negligence of governmental entities, universities, or private businesses. If you believe you have a claim that involves complicated issues such as sovereign immunity, personal injury, or governmental negligence, please do not hesitate to give us a call. Our consultations are always free.

TOPICS: Injury, Negligence, Sovereign Immunity, Wrongful Death Lawsuit, Ward & Barnes Lawyers