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Liability case over Illinois fraternity death expands

College freshman are settling into first semesters. For many students, it's the first extended time away from family. The pressure of assimilation into the college lifestyle is high. Some teens are mature enough for the transition, but others struggle to adapt.

Fraternities accept members based on qualifications, some that mirror the drunken antics of the movie "Animal House" more than academic or other achievements. A 19-year-old Northern Illinois University student who "wanted to be liked" was one of 19 pledges at a fraternity where a hazing ritual required drinking in excess.

Teens aren't the only ones who overindulge to create or maintain friendships. Older adults often party to the point of alcohol poisoning and even death. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 80,000 people lose their lives every year to alcohol overuse. Some poisonings are due to the kind of drinking that killed the NIU student - binge drinking.

According to a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the student's parents, the pledges at Pi Kappa Alpha were ordered to answer questions while downing repeated glasses of vodka. Potential fraternity members who hesitated were castigated until they did.

As the pledges became intoxicated and ill, the students were placed throughout the frat house where they passed out. Fraternity members did not seek medical help after the pledges fell unconscious. One of the teens never woke up. Authorities later learned his blood alcohol level was above 0.35.

The fraternity, its male members and more than a dozen females attending the party were named in the family's lawsuit for a minimum of $100,000 in damages. Many of the same defendants are facing criminal charges for felony and misdemeanor hazing. The relatives' attorney said a complaint would also be filed against Northern Illinois University.

The plaintiffs hope the case makes an impression on college freshmen that will save their lives.

Source: dailyherald.com, "Details emerge in NIU freshman's hazing death" Madhu Krishnamurthy, Aug. 22, 2013

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