Posted: November 8th, 2012 05:35 PM ET - Updated: November 9th, 2012 11:48 PM PT
Florida -- Florida A&M University has offered $300,000 – the maximum it says it can offer without state legislative action – as a settlement to the family of Robert Champion Jr., the drum major who died after a hazing ritual last year, a university attorney said Thursday. But the family’s attorney said that the offer is an insult, and that the family will not consider it. Champion, 26, died in November 2011 following being beaten on a bus in Orlando, Florida, after a football game at which the school's famed marching band performed.
In addition to suing FAMU’s board of trustees, the family sued the company that owns the bus in which the abuse occurred, and the driver of the bus. In September, FAMU responded to the lawsuit by filing court documents saying that the institution was not responsible for Champion’s death. The school asserted Champion broke the law and school policies when he willingly took part in the hazing that left him dead.
The offer, filed in Florida circuit court, aims to settle a lawsuit that Champion’s family filed against the school’s board of trustees in July. “FAMU has offered the Champions the absolute maximum amount allowable by law,” FAMU's attorney said. “Anything more would require a special act approved by the state legislature. “It is our hope that this settlement will be accepted and can in some way help in the healing process for the Champion family and the entire FAMU community.”
A medical examiner's office ruled his death a homicide and said Champion "collapsed and died within an hour of a hazing incident during which he suffered multiple blunt trauma blows to his body." An autopsy found "extensive contusions of his chest, arms, shoulder and back" as well as "evidence of crushing areas of subcutaneous fat." The hazing was part of a ritual known as crossing the bus, an initiation process in which pledges attempt to run down the center aisle from the front door of the bus to the back while being punched, kicked and assaulted by senior members, band members have said.
Fourteen people have been charged criminal hazing in the case. One of them, a student, pleaded no contest and was sentenced last month to six months of community control (requiring he document his comings and goings, and request permission for any trips), two years of supervised probation and 200 hours of community service.
Posted: 1:08 PM EST, Tue January 10, 2012 - Updated 11:55 AM PST, Tue January 10, 2012
Orlando, Fla. (Lawsuits) -- The family of Robert Champion (pictured left) who died in November after he was beaten on a bus, allegedly as part of a Florida A&M University band hazing ritual, will sue the bus company, their attorney said Tuesday. The bus and its air conditioning system is believed to have been running at the time Champion was beaten, an attorney representing the family said, and the bus driver might not have been aboard. The family is suing Fabulous Coach Lines, based in Branford, Florida, he said. "We do anticipate, in the very near future, filing a legal action against the bus company alleging negligence and wrongful death," the attorney told reporters at a news conference Tuesday. Such a lawsuit will allow him to file subpoenas and take witness statements to further the investigation, he said. Part of that investigation will include determining what bus company employee was assigned to the bus, how it was running and how an estimated 30 people were on the bus long enough for Champion to be beaten to death.
FAMU is protected under sovereign immunity, and the family must file a statutory notice of intent to sue and wait six months to file suit against the school, the attorney said.
Ray Land, president of Fabulous Coach Lines, told media sources the company's employees, who were not on the bus at the time, responded quickly after learning there was an emergency -- even following the ambulance transporting Champion to the hospital, taking other band members there. "We did transport our passengers safely from point A to point B as contracted," Land said. When employees were notified of an emergency on board one of the nine buses in the convoy, "we responded just as quickly and effectively as we could." The company has already received some documents, he said, and "we're addressing those with our lawyers now." Asked if a company employee was on the bus at the time of Champion's beating, he said a driver was not in the seat on the bus, but the drivers had congregated together looking over the nine vehicles. The drivers rushed over to the bus after learning of a problem, he said.
Some band members have said Champion, 26, died after taking part in a rite of passage called "crossing Bus C." One band member, who spoke on condition of anonymity, previously explained that students "walk from the front of the bus to the back of the bus backward while the bus is full of other band members, and you get beaten until you get to the back."
The family attorney said Tuesday he's heard the ritual may have happened before on Fabulous Coach Lines. However, Land said the bus company has "never seen this kind of behavior" from the band previously. "It's completely out of the blue," he said of the lawsuit. "It wasn't an auto accident. It wasn't a crash. If two passengers get in a fight, and one gets injured, I don't know how that's the motorcoach company's liability."
The family attorney said his legal team has spoken to "in excess of 15 people" during the preliminary investigation. Friends of Champion have told the attorney during his investigation that Champion was gay, the attorney said. Relatives believe that may have been one of many factors that contributed to his being treated more severely than other band members, Chestnut said. However, he said, Champion's homosexuality is not believed to have been a primary factor in the beating. "This is not a hate crime. This is a hazing crime," he said. "Florida A&M University has a 50-year history, a culture in this band, of hazing."
The family thinks some people might have been jealous of Champion, a stickler for the rules who stood up against hazing, he said. "Robert Champion was defined by the fact that he followed the rules," the attorney said. Champion also may have been about to become the band's lead drum major, he said. Band director Julian White, who's on administrative leave from his post, said at Champion's funeral November 30 he regretted not telling him he had been selected to be the band's next head drum major. Champion's mother, Pam, told [media sources] her son "loved his music. He loved the band. He was very serious about how he did and the position he was in."
Champion collapsed in Orlando on the bus, which was carrying members of FAMU's Marching 100 after a November football game that included a halftime performance by the group. The family's attorney has charged that Champion died after receiving "some dramatic blows, perhaps (having an) elevated heart rate" tied to "a hazing ritual" that took place on the bus. The medical examiner's office ruled his death a homicide and said Champion "collapsed and died within an hour of a hazing incident during which he suffered multiple blunt trauma blows to his body." An autopsy conducted after his death found "extensive contusions of his chest, arms, shoulder and back," as well as "evidence of crushing of areas of subcutaneous fat," which is the fatty tissue directly under the skin.
"When a crime victim is targeted because of his or her identity, it can have devastating effects on communities," said Michael Cole-Schwartz, spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign. "The allegation that Robert Champion may have been singled out because of who he was must be thoroughly investigated and prosecuted accordingly." The death prompted the FAMU board of trustees to approve a new three-part anti-hazing plan. The new policy was passed in a 9-1 vote by the board last week as the school continues to deal with the controversial death.
Champion's mother told media sources she wants hazing to stop. "Think twice when your kids are going off to college," she said. "Look into what's going on at their college ... Now we know."
Along with the university, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Orange County Sheriff's Office are also investigating the case. The family attorney said law enforcement has not contacted Champion's family and they don't know the status of the criminal investigation.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has launched a separate investigation into some school employees, who were allegedly engaged in financial fraud.
Wrongful death is a claim in common law jurisdictions against a person who can be held liable for a death. The claim is brought in a civil action, usually by close relatives, as enumerated by statute. Under common law, a dead person cannot bring a suit, and this created a loophole in which activities that resulted in a person's injury would result in civil sanction but activities that resulted in a person's death would not. The standard of proof in the United States is typically preponderance of the evidence as opposed to clear and convincing or beyond a reasonable doubt. In Australia and the United Kingdom, it is 'on the balance of probabilities'. For this reason it is often easier for a family to seek retribution against someone who kills a family member through tort than a criminal prosecution.
However, the two actions are not mutually exclusive; a person may be prosecuted criminally for causing a person's death (whether in the form of murder, manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, or some other theory) and that person can also be sued civilly in a wrongful death action (as in the O. J. Simpson murder case). Wrongful death is also the only recourse available when a company, not an individual, causes the death of a person; for example, historically, families have tried (both successfully and unsuccessfully) to sue tobacco companies for wrongful deaths of their customers.
In most common law jurisdictions, there was no common law right to recover civil damages for the wrongful death of a person.[22A Am. Jur. 2d Death § 1]: Wrongful death actions were strictly statutory.. Some jurisdictions have recognized a common law right of recovery for wrongful death, reasoning that “there is no present public policy against allowing recovery for wrongful death."[Moragne v. States Marine Lines, Inc., 398 U.S. 375, 90 S.Ct. 1772 (1970)] Jurisdictions that recognize the common law right to recovery for wrongful death have used the right to fill in gaps in statutes or to apply common law principles to decisions.[Restatement (Second) of Torts § 925 (1979); cited therein] Many jurisdictions enacted statutes to create a right to such recovery. The issue of liability will be determined by the tort law of a given state.
See the Fatal Accidents Act 1846 (Lord Campbell's Act) for the origin of wrongful death liability.
January 11, 2012
California -- Michael Jackson's father, Joseph Jackson, filed a wrongful-death suit against Dr. Conrad Murray on Friday (June 25, 2010) in which he asks for damages in connection with the death of his son one year ago to that day. According to a copy of the suit provided by Jackson's lawyer, the action was filed against Murray and his two medical clinics, Acres Home Heart & Vascular Associates in Houston and GCA Holdings LLC in Las Vegas in federal court in California on Friday afternoon. The suit lists Jackson's mother, Katherine, as well as his three children, Michael Joseph "Prince" Jackson Jr., Paris Michael Katherine Jackson and Prince Michael Jackson II as "nominal" plaintiffs in the case.
Though Joseph Jackson has spoken out several times about the alleged role he believed concert promoter AEG Live played in his son's death — claiming that Michael was too sick and that AEG was pushing the frail singer too hard to play too many shows — AEG is not named in the lawsuit.
Dr. Conrad Murray is charged with involuntary manslaughter in the death of Michael Jackson. The Conrad Murray trial, being held in Los Angeles, California, started on September 26, 2011. Dr. Murray had been administering propofol to help Jackson sleep. Propofol is an anesthetic used during surgery, in a controlled hospital setting. Propofol is an effective anesthetic, but can cause patients to stop breathing, so it needs to be continuously monitored, according to a report by Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
Conrad Murray was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter at his criminal trial in the death of singer Michael Jackson. The jury reached a guilty verdict in the Los Angeles Superior Court in downtown Los Angeles, on Nov. 7, 2011.
"The conviction of Dr. Murray is just the beginning of bringing forth the truth on what happened to Michael Jackson," said an attorney for the Jackson family. "Forces much larger than Dr. Murray were involved in this tragedy."
Dr. Conrad Murray, having been found guilty of the involuntary manslaughter of Michael Jackson, faced sentencing. The prosecution filed a sentencing memo asking for Dr. Murray to be sentenced to the maximum of four years in jail, together with a request that he be forced to pay Jackson's children over $100M in compensation for Jackson's loss of income. Dr. Conrad Murray was sentenced to four years in country jail (not state prison) for the involuntary manslaughter of Michael Jackson.
He has since filed an appeal (In Propria Persona) against the sentence.
In France, a group of 100 Michael Jackson fans based in France have hired a lawyer, Emmanuel Ludot, to sue Conrad Murray (who is currently serving time for the involuntary manslaughter of Jackson) for compensation for the "emotional damage" caused by Conrad Murray. The case will be heard in Orleans, France on April 11 2012.
Meanwhile, in the United States, with the conviction of Michael Jackson's doctor on an involuntary manslaughter charge, the question of civil liability in the pop star's death shifts to a new and much wealthier defendant: Los Angeles entertainment behemoth Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG). The conclusion of the criminal case sets the stage for proceedings in civil court, where the pop star's mother and children are pressing a wrongful death suit against the corporation and its concert subsidiary, AEG Live, the promoter of Jackson's doomed comeback attempt.
The company's concern with the civil matter was on display at Dr. Murray's criminal trial. The lead attorney for AEG in the wrongful death suit, sat in the well of the court facing the witness box as three company officials testified during the criminal trial.
The civil case involves many of the same issues as the criminal trial: propofol, Jackson's performance anxiety and the medical choices of Dr. Conrad Murray. But the proceedings are expected to delve into areas the criminal judge barred as irrelevant to Murray's role, including Jackson's finances and years of drug problems.