ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - Florida A & M University asked a judge on Wednesday to dismiss a wrongful death lawsuit against it in the 2011 hazing death of marching band drum major Robert Champion.
Richard Mitchell, a lawyer for the college known as FAMU, asked Judge Walter Komanski to toss out the civil lawsuit filed by Champion’s family on grounds that Champion willingly submitted to a hazing ritual to gain the respect of certain band members.
Komanski will rule on the request next week.
“The overarching dispositive question is, did Mr. Champion participate in the hazing that caused his death?” Mitchell said in court. He called Champion a “victim participant.”
According to Mitchell, Champion willingly submitted to hazing in Orlando in November 2011 by boarding a band charter bus after hours where hazing was known to occur and by watching the hazing of two other band members while awaiting his turn.
Authorities have said the 26-year-old Champion died from shock caused by severe bleeding after hazing on a bus outside an Orlando hotel where the band was staying
FAMU, which earlier filed similar written arguments to dismiss the case, faced criticism for suggesting in its initial brief that Champion was responsible for his own death.
Kenneth Bell, representing the Champion family, however asked the judge to allow the case to be presented to a jury. Bell argued that participating in hazing is not enough to bar the family from suing FAMU for damages.
Champion family lawyer Christopher Chestnut said Champion’s parents hope to bring pressure to bear on the university to end the culture of hazing and protect other students.
A medical examiner ruled Champion’s death a homicide. Ten former members of the historically black college’s “Marching 100” band face felony hazing charges stemming from Champion’s death.
Editing By Tom Brown and Cynthia Osterman