Family of Palatine teen gets $14 million settlement in NIU hazing death
The family of a Palatine teen who died after an alcohol-fueled hazing at a Northern Illinois University fraternity is receiving a $14 million settlement in a wrongful-death suit against members of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity and others who authorities say did nothing to assist the severely intoxicated pledge.
Gary and Ruth Bogenberger, whose son David was an NIU freshman when he died in November 2012, on Friday called the settlement a "hollow victory."
The lawsuit was not about vengeance, said Gary Bogenberger, who pursued the civil action with his wife "to make a loud statement that something horrible happened here."
"The only way to do that is with a large civil remedy. Hopefully, it will be remembered by people within the fraternity and sorority systems and at the universities," he said.
Authorities say Bogenberger and 18 other pledges attended an unsanctioned party at the fraternity on Nov. 1, 2012, where active members and their female guests pushed the young men to consume excessive amounts of alcohol as part of a hazing ritual. The intoxicated pledges became unconscious, but no one at the party called paramedics or sought medical attention for them.
Bogenberger was found unresponsive the next morning. His blood alcohol content was 0.351 percent, more than four times the legal limit of .08, authorities said.
In what DeKalb County authorities called the largest prosecution of its kind in the country's history, 22 men pleaded guilty to misdemeanor reckless conduct or hazing in May 2015. In exchange they were sentenced to probation or supervision, community service and fines. None received jail time.
"We were prepared for the consequences of the criminal action," Gary Bogenberger said. "We did not agree with it, but we were prepared for it."
The parties reached the settlement in the civil case in August and the suit was dismissed in October, said Bogenberger attorney Peter Coladarci.
The settlement "sends a signal to deter this kind of conduct in the future," Coladarci said.
Earlier this year, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled individual fraternity members and their guests could be held civilly liable for Bogenberger's death, but the fraternal organization could not. Coladarci believes that might change and a "day of reckoning is coming" for such organizations "if this kind of behavior continues."
Michael Borders, vice chairman of Dykema, a Chicago law firm, coordinated the defense for the more than 40 respondents named in the suit. After the Illinois high court ruled in January that the case could proceed, the respondents recognized this would be a lengthy, expensive and challenging case to defend and it "would be in the best interest of the litigants ... to see the matter amicably settled," he said.
Ruth Bogenberger hopes the settlement sends a message about the danger of hazing.
"Hazing can be deadly. It's not something people can continue to overlook. Too many people have suffered already," she said. "We are using whatever means are available to us to make a loud statement to say this is a big deal. Someone died because a bunch of kids were careless, thoughtless and cruel."