$1.75MM Partial Settlement With University For Wrongful Death of A Student Who Died On Campus Due to Alcohol Poisoning

FMU
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Law Offices Cytryn & Velazquez P.A. recently obtained a $1,750,000.00 partial settlement from a university in Miami Gardens for the mother and father of a young man who died in a university dorm room.

College student binge drinking is a widely known danger to the life and well-being of college students across the country. When the mother hired us and we began our investigation into this case, we knew that something had to be done for this young man and his family. So, we decided to take on the university and its security company.

Dulajuwan, the young man who tragically died, was a senior at Florida Memorial University (FMU), just a few months away from graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice. The night of his untimely passing, Dulajuwan was celebrating his 21st birthday at an off-campus apartment party. As many young people his age tend to do on their birthdays, he drank a lot and became highly intoxicated.

That night, while Dulajuwan was extremely intoxicated to the point of falling down, a friend drove him back to his dorm at the FMU campus. Shortly before midnight, Dulajuwan arrived back on campus. When Dulajuwan reached his dorm, security cameras show that he was in an unconscious or at best, a semi-conscious state. The dorm’s on-duty resident assistant (RA), who was also Dulajuwan’s roommate, and a dorm security guard, were there at the dorm when Dulajuwan arrived. At this time, Dulajuwan was unable to walk, communicate, or even open his eyes. The RA and two other individuals, while escorted by the security guard, carried Dulajuwan through an elevator and up to his second floor dorm room.

Dulajuwan’s roommate (the RA) agreed to stay with him in the dorm room, and the security guard said he would come up intermittently to check on Dulajuwan. After a while, Dulajuwan’s roommate left the room and went down the hall to play video games. The security guard came back to check on Dulajuwan twice. The second time, he found Dulajuwan alone, pulseless, and unresponsive. The security guard called 911 and administered CPR, but Dulajuwan could not be revived. He died in his dorm room of what is known as acute alcohol intoxication.

Our firm filed a lawsuit against the university and the security company that FMU hired.

Prior to Dulajuwan’s death, neither the RA nor the security guard had received any training regarding alcohol poisoning. Nor had they been trained to recognize when over drinking changes from simply being drunk to a life-threatening situation. It is our position that a resident assistant or security guard working on school grounds, and particularly in college or university dorms, must be trained to recognize the difference between somebody who simply drank too much but does not need medical assistance, versus somebody who is in immediate physical danger due to alcohol consumption. One way to recognize the difference is to simply poke a person and see if they are arousable.

The RA’s superiors at FMU, many of whom were no longer employed at FMU by the time we filed this case, conceded that Dulajuwan should not have been left alone in his dorm room. Former FMU employees also acknowledged that 911 should have been called and medical assistance sought for Dulajuwan. We hired an expert in the field of campus residence life who testified at deposition about the known risks involving college students and binge drinking (shockingly to us, the court ultimately struck his testimony on a Daubert motion).

Despite the university claiming to be a “dry campus” where students were prohibited from drinking or being intoxicated on campus, the testimony from witnesses revealed that incidents involving alcohol were commonplace at the school. Testimony from a security guard revealed that the students were “drunk every day.” Testimony from the dean of students also revealed that in the span of approximately one year, there were at least 20 reported alcohol violations on campus that resulted in formal proceedings before school administrators. Even the director of campus security acknowledged the continuing problem of alcohol violations on campus. Former students testified that they would regularly plan “let-outs” where students gathered at parking lots on campus and drank alcohol.

Law Offices Cytryn & Velazquez P.A. also hired two emergency room doctors – both of whom are Harvard professors, and one of whom is a board certified expert in medical toxicology – as expert witnesses. The doctors testified that had paramedics been called and had Dulajuwan been brought to the hospital emergency room in a timely manner, he would have survived, despite his blood alcohol level being .367 (more than 4 times the legal driving limit of .08).

It is our position that colleges and universities must implement adequate policies and procedures on campus and provide adequate training for school personnel, to protect all students from known dangers due to alcohol consumption. Colleges and universities and their security guards have a duty to protect students from known risks on the school campus. While colleges and universities obviously cannot be expected to control all student conduct, they must take steps to deal with known dangerous situations on campus, particularly those that occur with some frequency, such as students becoming dangerously intoxicated. It is widely known that college students often drink to excess, even to the point that their health and well-being can be at risk. It is our position that colleges and universities and their hired security companies are responsible for knowing and understanding the difference between somebody who is drunk and can sleep it off versus somebody whose life is in serious in danger and requires immediate medical attention.

Our firm litigated the case for approximately three years and spent almost $170,000 in litigation costs before we reached a settlement with the university. The case remains pending against the school’s retained security company who employed the dorm security guard, and trial is scheduled for January.