All About Waivers: Attorney and Client Executive, Estacia Brandenburg, joins us to discuss all that you need to know about liability waivers and sorority events. Sara and Estacia discuss the basics of liability waivers, our position on waivers, and several of your most frequently asked questions.

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What’s the deal with kids at the chapter house/premises? – In this episode we discuss MJ’s position on kids, including many different possible scenarios and how the insurance program would respond.

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Risky Activities – In this episode we discuss what risky activities are, why chapters should be concerned about risky activities, and some easy alternative activities.

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Event Planning: All About Liquor Liability – In this episode we discuss liquor liability.

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The Sorority held a new member retreat at a hotel. The members set up a ropes course at a nearby park. The ropes were approximately 6 feet off the ground. As a team building exercise, the new members had to help each other cross the rope without touching the ground. The second new member crossing the rope fell and broke her ankle. She had to undergo surgery to repair it.   

A lawsuit was filed and was eventually settled for $175,000. The investigation determined that new members were not given the option of not participating and the organizations guidelines indicated spotters were supposed to be used.  

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During Parents Weekend, the mother of a member tripped over a wire that was run through the bottom of rocking chairs on the front porch of the house. The wire was gray and was a couple of inches off of the ground. The member’s mother sustained a significant injury to her elbow when she fell.  

A lawsuit was not filed. However, the claimant did retain legal counsel.  It was alleged that the sorority created a hazard by running the wire under the chairs and that the hazard should have been removed while invited guests were on the property. 

The claim settled for $450,000.  

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A guest at the chapter’s barn dance was struck and killed by a drunk driver. The bus transporting members and their guests back to campus dropped the guest off prior to arriving at the drop off point at the guest’s request. The guest was later struck and killed by a drunk driver.  

A lawsuit was filed against the Sorority and bus company. It is alleged that the sorority failed to enforce its own policies to prevent invitees from exiting the party bus an unauthorized drop locations. 

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The claimant sustained a brain injury during the chapter’s philanthropic football tournament. The chapter used University property to set up two football fields. The fields spanned the lateral width of a grassy area with retaining walls at the end zones. The claimant was attempting to catch a pass when he hit the retaining wall and landed on his head and shoulder on a brick sidewalk just passed the retaining wall. The claimant sustained an epidural hematoma and had to undergo an emergency craniotomy. It is alleged that the claimant will continue to experience difficulties associated with his injury for the rest of his life.   

A lawsuit was recently filed against the University and the Sorority. The lawsuit alleges the Sorority failed to exercise reasonable care to make a safe playing field and should have known the dangers of the retaining wall being so close to the end zone. 

The claim settled for $1,500,000. A waiver was not signed even though it was procedure for the Chapter to have them signed for this type of event. We were told that there was a good chance that the wavier would have held up.  

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A guest at the chapter’s barn dance fell into the bonfire. The claimant stood on a log near the fire in order to have her picture taken. The claimant slipped and fell into the fire. According to the newspaper, the claimant’s blood alcohol level was 0.14. The claimant was of legal drinking age. 

A lawsuit has recently been filed against the sorority, the owner of the farm and the liquor store that provided the alcohol for the event. It is alleged in the lawsuit that the sorority did not provide the number of event monitor’s required by the University.  

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After the bus dropped the members and their dates off, a member’s date allegedly drove while intoxicated and struck a member and her date. The members date was killed as a result of the accident. 

A lawsuit is pending. 

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The organization was setting up for a charity event when two members of the organization were pushing a student employee on a 25 foot tallescope ladder. The two women pushing the ladder ran over an extension cord on the floor which caused the ladder to topple over and the student employee to fall 25 feet to the ground. The student employee sustained a traumatic brain injury as well as severe injuries to her face, jaw, and teeth. 

A lawsuit was filed naming the volunteers, organization and the charity. The University was immune from tort liability because it is both a governmental entity and because it provided workers’ compensation benefits to the injured student employee. It was defense counsel’s opinion that a jury would likely place 25% liability on each volunteer/member, 25% liability on the organization and 25% liability on the University. Even though a jury may have apportioned liability to the University, they would not have had to make any payments. It was also believed that the two members would have been immune from liability based on the state’s Volunteer Service Acts.  

The University agreed to waive their subrogation lien of $1,500,000 which aided in the lawsuit settling for $850,000 during mediation. It is unknown if the charity paid a settlement. 

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Background

A sorority chapter was having a co-sponsored event with a fraternity chapter on campus in hopes of raising funds for the fraternity’s philanthropy. The event was held at the fraternity chapter house. Some of the fraternity members setup a make-shift slip-and-slide using tarps and spikes. The individuals that setup the slip-and-slide did not push the spikes all the way into the ground. The sorority chapter women had nothing to do with the design of the slip-and-slide.

Scenario

About twenty minutes after the event started, a non-member guest went down the slip-and-slide and severely injured her leg on one of the spikes that was sticking up from the ground. The claimant’s estimated medical expenses are nearly $40,000. The claimant’s attorney has requested a settlement of $300,000 from the fraternity and sorority in question and has threatened further legal action if that amount is not paid to the claimant within 30 days.

Result

The fraternity’s insurance company plans to offer the claimant a settlement of $100,000, and the sorority’s insurance company has offered to contribute twenty percent of the proposed settlement amount (equal to $20,000) to the fraternity’s insurance company.  

Risk management lessons

This claim demonstrates that your chapters, volunteers and members can still be named in lawsuits even when they had little to do with an injury occurring other than co-sponsoring said event. In this case, if the sorority had inspected the slip-and-slide and realized the danger that the metal spikes posed (as well as the risks associated with a makeshift slip-and-slide, in general), the injury may have been prevented. This claim demonstrates that your chapters, volunteers and members can still be named in lawsuits even when they had little to do with an injury occurring other than co-sponsoring said event. In this case, if the sorority had inspected the slip-and-slide and realized the danger that the metal spikes posed (as well as the risks associated with a makeshift slip-and-slide, in general), the injury may have been prevented.

Issues to discuss

  • What safer alternatives are there to a slip-and-slide activity?
  • What measures should the sorority chapter have put in place to ensure the safety of events that they are co-sponsoring with another fraternity chapter, especially when the event is being held at the fraternity chapter house?
  • What other takeaways can you glean from this example to improve risk management at your location?
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