ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - Lawyers for Florida A&M University offered a blunt response on Monday to a lawsuit over the hazing death of drum major Robert Champion, essentially saying there was no one to blame for the tragedy but Champion himself.
The response, accusing Champion of "imprudent" behavior, came in a motion to dismiss the wrongful death lawsuit filed in Orange County Circuit Court by Champion's family, according a report late Monday in the online edition of the Orlando Sentinel newspaper.
Lawyers for Champion's family and the university could not be reached for immediate comment.
The Sentinel quoted the university's defense attorneys as saying Champion, a 26-year-old leader in the school's renowned marching band, knew of the dangers of hazing but decided to submit himself to the brutal ritual nonetheless.
He had signed a pledge against the practice and knew that it was both illegal and a violation of school policy. But in an apparent bid to win the respect of his fellow musicians, he allowed himself to be beaten aboard a charter bus in Orlando last fall, sustaining injuries that ultimately caused his death, the lawyers said.
"Respectfully, as a 26-year-old adult and leader in FAMU's band, Mr. Champion should have refused to participate in the planned hazing event and reported it to law enforcement or university administrators," the lawyers were quoted a saying.
"Under these circumstances, Florida's taxpayers should not be held financially liable to Mr. Champion's estate for the ultimate result of his own imprudent, avoidable and tragic decision and death."
The Champion family's wrongful-death claim was originally filed in February against the charter bus company that owned the vehicle he was beaten on, as well as against the bus driver.
It was amended in July to add Florida A&M University as a defendant. Champion's parents allege in the lawsuit that the university's leaders tolerated hazing that had hospitalized three other band members and was implicated at least 107 other incidents since 1983.
A dozen former members of the university's famed "Marchin 100" band are charged with felony hazing in Champion's death. All 12 have pleaded not guilty to the third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.
(Reporting By Barbara Liston; Editing By Tom Brown)