June 25, 2019 – Today Governor Ron DeSantis signed “Andrew’s Law,” strengthening Florida’s existing anti-hazing statute. Florida’s previous anti-hazing statute, often called “the Chad Meredith Act,” was signed into law by Governor Jeb Bush in 2005 and made hazing that causes serious injury or death a third-degree felony in Florida. It was among the first laws nationwide to make hazing a felony rather than a misdemeanor.
The new law toughens Florida’s existing hazing statute in a number of ways. Now, fraternity and sorority leaders who plan the hazing event, but do not personally attend the event, will be criminally liable when someone is seriously hurt or killed. It also provides that the first person who calls 911 to summon help for a hazing victim and anyone administering aid to the victim while waiting for help to arrive will not be prosecuted under the hazing statute.
“We knew that we needed to make our good law even better,” said Attorneys David Bianchi and Michael Levine, of Stewart Tilghman Fox Bianchi & Cain, P.A., in Miami who drafted the new law. Bianchi was one of the original architects of the “Chad Meredith Act” following his representation of Chad’s parents, who successfully sued those responsible for Chad’s hazing death at the University of Miami. “Andrew’s Law” received bipartisan support in the Florida Legislature thanks to sponsorship and great support from Senator Lauren Book and Representative Chip LaMarca. “We have seen too many deaths and serious injuries from hazing activities in Florida and we are very grateful that the Governor and legislature recognized the need to make these improvements to Florida’s hazing law. Lives will be saved by what was signed into law today,” Bianchi said.
Andrew’s Law is named for Andrew Coffey, a junior at Florida State University who died during a Pi Kappa Phi event in November 2017. As a pledge, Andrew was subjected to a tradition called “the family bottle” which required him to drink an entire bottle of Wild Turkey bourbon. Coffey later became extremely sick and intoxicated and was then moved to a couch where his fraternity “brothers” hoped he would sleep it off, but no one called for help. When they checked in on him the next morning, he was dead.
“If one of the kids from the party that night—there were 90 kids there—if just one of them would have picked up the phone when they saw that Andrew needed some help, he’d still be here,” Andrew’s mother Sandy said to lawmakers during hearings on the bill. The Coffey family, who had been represented by David W. Bianchi and Michael Levineduring their civil suit against Pi Kappa Phi and 12 other defendants, had been vocal proponents of the new legislation. “We are very grateful to Governor DeSantis, Senator Book, Representative LaMarca, FSU President John Thrasher and our attorneys David Bianchi and Michael Levine for all that they did to make this happen. Our son’s death has resulted in a new law that will hopefully save other families from a similar tragedy,” the Coffeys said.
“Our changes to the anti-hazing statute should incentivize young men and women to call for help as soon as they see that someone has been injured or harmed by hazing. It would also hold accountable the leaders and officers of fraternities and sororities who put together events where hazing occurs,” the law firm wrote on its website in April.