Family Awarded $1.5 Million in Hazing Lawsuit

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. – A family, whose son died due to being hazed at State University of New York at Plattsburgh (SUNY Plattsburgh), was awarded $1.5 million in a wrongful death suit.

Walter Jennings III died Mar. 12, 2003 after he endured 12 days of hazing during a brutal initiation process for the now defunct Psi Epsilon Chi fraternity. He was forced to drink large amounts of water through a funnel, repeatedly consume alcohol until he vomited and consume drinks that contained urine. Additionally, he was forced to perform calisthenics and then told to sit in a limited space where heat was as high as 100 degrees. Jennings was also sleep-deprived.

Police said the cause of death was hyponatremia, a rare condition due to water intoxication that causes swelling in the brain.

State Supreme Court Justice Stephen A. Ferradino ruled that John Burnius, one of 14 who hazed Jennings, would pay the parents of the victim $400,000 in compensatory damages and another $100,000 for wrongful death. He must also pay punitive damages of $1 million.

The victim’s parents, Walter Jennings Jr. and Sue Jennings filed the suit in 2004.

Over the past three years, the other 13 plaintiffs settled out of court. Initially, police charged 10 students and one alumnus with criminally negligent homicide, among 150 collective crimes. Eleven students were charged with crimes involving hazing, Burnius included. After pleading guilty, 10 were sentenced to probation and community service. One person served jail time.

At the time of the victim’s death, Psi Epsilon Chi had been banned from SUNY Plattsburgh due to alcohol related incidents in 1998.

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