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Interview with Stephen Wagner Regarding Freshman Injury at Wabash College

Steve Wagner

A former freshman at Indiana’s Wabash College was injured during a hazing incident while pledging the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity on campus.

The freshman, Brian Yost, was injured when four upperclassmen tried to carry him into one of the showers of the dormitory for a “showering activity” when one of the upperclassmen, Nathan Cravens, put Yost into a choke hold, causing him to pass out. After he passed out, the upperclassmen dropped Yost onto the floor, causing the more substantial injuries.

The Justices of the Indiana Supreme Court agreed to hear Brian Yost v. Wabash College, Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity, Inc., Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity – Indiana Gamma Chapter at Wabash College and Nathan Cravens, 54S01-1303-CT-161.

In October, the Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Wabash and the fraternities, claiming they owed nothing to Yost. All are anxious to hear the results of the appeal to the Indiana Supreme Court.

Stephen M. Wagner was interviewed about the details surrounding this case because he was involved in a very similar case in 2008 when Wabash and a local and national fraternal (Delta Tau Delta) organization were sued by the family of a freshman who was killed during a fraternity event.

The incident, death of freshman Johnny D. Smith of Tucson, AZ, was a result of alcohol poisoning at an on-campus, fraternity event. The trial court in that case ruled in favor of the fraternity, and it is awaiting a trial with the Court of Appeals.

Wagner said these cases are different, but that he will be closely watching the Yost case to see whether the justices reach for broader liability issues than they have in the past.

He says “A key fact in Yost is that Wabash was not just the college in that scenario, but also a landlord and a premises owner,” whereas at other universities, fraternity houses are independently owned and not a part of school property. Wagner said, “In some of these lawsuits against Wabash, there are allegations that there’s a pattern of allowing underage drinking and allowing these kinds of activities to occur in college-owned houses.”

We will continue to follow this story and bring you updates as they become available.

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