Crime & Courts

Former Francis Marion student wins $1.6 million in hazing suit

A former Francis Marion University student who was hospitalized in 2011 following a night of fraternity hazing was awarded a $1.6 million verdict this week, his attorneys said Friday.

Daniel McElveen said in a 2013 civil suit filed against Maurice Robinson – an active Phi Beta Sigma member, FMU alum and Florence high school teacher – that he was brutally beaten with paddles to the point of suffering acute renal failure at Robinson’s home during the fraternity initiation’s “Hell Night.” McElveen was hospitalized for several days following the incident and dropped out of school.

The Florence County jury returned on Thursday night a verdict for $600,000 actual damages and $1,000,000 in punitive damages.

“Hazing is an injustice to all of us and I hope my case raises awareness about hazing and prevents others from being victimized,” McElveen said in a press release.

The lawsuit originally included Francis Marion University and the fraternity. Those parties agreed in December to separate settlements with McElveen.

On behalf of Francis Marion, the S.C. Insurance Reserve Fund agreed Dec. 19, 2013, to pay $15,000, the rough equivalent of a year’s tuition and room and board, to McElveen, according to Tucker Mitchell, the university’s public affairs director. McElveen is also to reenroll at Francis Marion no later than this fall to finish his education. Mitchell said he has “about a year’s worth of schooling remaining.”

Attorney Mullins McLeod, who represented McElveen, said he was able to present evidence that hazing is not a consensual act. The perpetrators of the hazing, not the person being hazed, have the “power and control over the victims,” according to a press release.

“The jury rejected the idea that victims are to blame in hazing cases,” McLeod said in the release. “I hope their verdict makes college students think twice before they brutally, physically haze innocent students. Hazing and bullying has no place in our schools or universities.”

McElveen claimed in the suit that he was seriously and permanently injured Oct. 23, 2011, during the fraternity’s “Hell Night” initiation process for Phi Beta Sigma’s Francis Marion chapter. He was hospitalized for eight days at McLeod Regional Hospital. Nine men were arrested by the Florence County Sheriff’s Office.

The lawsuit claimed that the final night of initiation was the culmination of a pattern of hazing that included McElveen being forced to eat unidentified foods, being blindfolded and driven off campus, wearing the same dirty clothes each night and being deprived of sleep.