A KU student filed a suit against his own fraternity the other day seeking damages for injuries he suffered during a frat party.
The 20-year-old plaintiff’s presentation of the facts is that he and some of his buddies were drinking (illegally) at the party when one of his friends decided it would be a really cool party trick if he smashed the plaintiff’s head against a concrete wall. The wall won. The plaintiff’s injuries appear to be both serious and permanent.
His allegation against the fraternity is that it facilitated an atmosphere within the house that did not discourage — indeed it allowed and/or promoted — underage drinking. The evidence for this was the easy availability of alcohol inside the house.
There’s probably nothing in the above three paragraphs that will surprise anybody who’s ever actually lived in a fraternity house. So the only real question is the degree, if any, to which the national fraternity organization tolerated and/or promoted illegal activity within the confines of the house? Well, there actually is one other question: Whether the illegal drinkers — including the one who filed the suit — bear partial or total culpability for actually violating the state laws prohibiting their own use of alcohol?
The suit reminds us of the tale of Flint Rhem, an old pitcher on a contending team but with a reputation as a resolute drunk. This story occurred in the Prohibition years. One day Flint disappeared on a toot during the heat of a pennant race, showing up in the team clubhouse several days later disheveled and loaded. The team threatened a suspension unless Flint could come up with a good explanation for his absence. Flint came up with a winner. He had, he claimed, been kidnapped by gamblers motivated by a desire to cost Flint’s team the pennant by denying them the services of their best pitcher. Then to make sure Flint couldn’t pitch they forced him at gunpoint to get loaded, stinking drunk, pouring hootch down his throat until Flint finally made his escape.
Everybody had a good laugh at the notion that Flint had been forced to imbibe.