Court allows wrongful death suit in NIU fatal hazing incident

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The Illinois Supreme Court ruled that the family of a NIU fraternity pledge can proceed with a lawsuit involving his 2012 death from excessive drinking. (WLS)

The Illinois Supreme Court ruled Friday that the family of a Northern Illinois University fraternity pledge can proceed with a lawsuit involving his 2012 death from excessive drinking, a decision that could reduce hazing on college campuses across the state.

The family of 19-year-old David Bogenberger can continue with their lawsuit against those who participated in the Pi Kappa Alpha hazing incident that left the Northern Illinois University student dead five years ago.

But the Illinois Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that the family cannot sue the national chapter of the fraternity.

"Although the national organization has been dismissed by the Supreme Court in this case, the fact that its individual members may be held liable for significant damages means that the national fraternity needs to take action," said Peter Coladarci, an attorney for the Bogenberger family.

Over a dozen Pi Kappa Alpha pledges like Bogenberger were forced to drink vodka during an initiation game at the fraternity in November 2012. Bogenberger was unresponsive the next morning. He died with a blood alcohol level five times the legal driving limit.

"He was a gregarious young man and wanted join and be accepted in this fraternity," said Coladarci.

The 22 members of the fraternity were sentenced to court supervision and community service in 2015, serving no jail time.

Gary Bogenberger, the father of David Bogenberger, said that he hopes the wrongful death lawsuit makes young people think twice before taking part in hazing.

"That it will shine a much brighter spotlight on these activities, the absurdity, the evilness of this whole hazing process that seems to be escalating," said Bogenberger.

According to NIU officials, the Pi Kappa Alpha chapter was suspended on campus in 2013 and its charter was subsequently revoked. The national chapter declined to comment on the Friday ruling.

A Cook County judge dismissed the family's lawsuit in 2014, finding that a person providing or serving alcohol isn't responsible for consequences to the person who drinks it. However, the high court said Friday that the 19-year-old died in an "alcohol-related hazing event."

The case will to go trial sometime next year.

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