Family Files Wrongful Death Over Alleged Hazing Incident
The family of Nicky Cumberland has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Texas Cowboys, a men’s student organization. Cumberland’s parents say that a night of hazing led to their son’s death.
Cumberland was involved in a car accident that turned out to be fatal. Cumberland died in a Houston hospital nearly a month after the accident occurred.
Cumberland was a third-year student at UT Austin and had joined the Cowboys in the fall of 2018. Cumberland went with other members of the Cowboys on a weekend retreat. On their way back, the driver fell asleep at the wheel which caused the accident that led to Cumberland’s death.
The Texas Cowboys conducted their own investigation and concluded that alcohol or hazing contributed in no way to Cumberland’s death. This makes a certain degree of sense, but countless hours partying or simply even being awake for an extended period of time could make a driver unsafe to drive even if there was no alcohol in his system. Further, it is very difficult to predict that an individual will fall asleep at the wheel even after several late nights.
The Cumberlands allege that the retreat was part of an initiation. Cumberland and others were expected to find items for use in a scavenger hunt at a ranch in rural Texas. The Cumberlands believe that the activities included forced binge drinking, wrestling, digging holes, bonfires, marching, and severe physical abuse. They also allege that Cumberland and other pledges were forced to go without sleep for an extended period of time which violates University policy.
This isn’t the first lawsuit the Cowboys have faced. In 1995, Gabe Higgins drowned in the Colorado River after a night of partying. This resulted in the group being banned by the University for the next five years.
The Cumberlands are seeking damages in excess of $1 million.
Will They be Successful?
Cumberland was 21 when his death occurred, meaning that he was legally able to drink alcohol. The parents will need to establish how the weekend’s events made driving unsafe for the driver. If they can establish that the Cowboys used sleep deprivation and forced drinking during the alleged hazing, their case will be a strong one against the men’s club.
But this evidence may not be easy to come by. Typically, club members are very private about what happens during these retreats. Similarly, evidence will need to come from those who were actually there.
While the Cumberland’s case isn’t without merit. They will need to show how the organization and those who were in control created circumstances that made a driving death more likely.
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