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In a frat house accident last week, an 18-year-old girl was impaled in the neck by a broken golf club.
Natalie Jo Eaton, a student at Arkansas State University, was hospitalized after "rush" activities at the Kappa Alpha frat house. According to Little Rock's KARK-TV, students were using the golf club as a bat to hit a tossed football when the shaft broke, sending the broken end sailing 30 feet before it lodged itself in Eaton's neck.
How serious were Eaton's injuries, and who might be held legally responsible?
It's been very touch-and-go since Eaton was hospitalized on Tuesday, with the golf club potentially injuring her spinal cord. Eaton's friend told KARK that doctors had initially given her the impression "it was probably paralysis," though the teen now has feeling on both sides of her body.
ASU released a statement on Wednesday noting that Eaton, although barely a freshman, was "part of the Red Wolves family" and extended the university community's prayers. This probably wasn't how Eaton had envisioned her first weeks of college, but with any luck, she may recover.
The Kappa Alpha house wouldn't be the first frat house to be sued over a serious injury or death. But Eaton's impalement seems to be simply bad luck.
While hitting a football with a golf club is certainly not the proper use for either of those sporting implements, it isn't an inherently dangerous activity -- like shooting a bottle rocket from your buttocks. In the golf club incident, a negligence suit against the frat house or the two students involved would have to surmount a potential legal hurdle -- namely, who could have reasonably foreseen that Eaton would be impaled in the neck from a little golf-club-on-football fun?
That could eventually be a question for a jury to decide. But without this element of a negligence case, it may be difficult for Eaton or her family to sue the partiers, the frat house, or even ASU.
If the frat isn't deemed liable for Eaton's impalement, then perhaps her family will be able to seek compensation from the golf club's manufacturer. However, in product liability cases, strict liability for injuries caused by defects must come from using a product the way it was intended. Since the club was designed to hit golf balls, not footballs, this may leave little legal room for future suits.
An ASU vice chancellor told KARK he does not expect anyone to face criminal charges over the incident.
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