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Opening Arguments

Negligent friends

When does a moral obligation also become a legal obligation?

The parents of missing Indiana University student Lauren Spierer say three students failed their moral obligations to protect their stumblingly drunk friend the night she disappeared two years ago.

But even as they publicly scolded the men, the investigation in Bloomington grew older and colder and never led to criminal charges. It seemed the family faced few options to find any closure.

So they appear to have taken the case into their own hands – by saying the men also had a legal obligation to see her home safely.

[. . .]

The family filed the lawsuit as the two-year statute of limitations on civil cases approached. It accuses Michael Beth, Corey Rossman and Jason “Jay” Rosenbaum of negligence in Lauren Spierer’s disappearance.

They abandoned her, it says, to walk home alone early June 3, 2011, even after noticing she was heavily intoxicated, disoriented and incapacitated.

[. . .]

Do college students have a legal duty to care for their drunk friends?

Beth’s attempt to have Lauren Spierer sleep on his couch and Rosenbaum’s attempt to call friends to take her home could show they had taken on that responsibility, said Don Gjerdingen, another IU Maurer School of Law professor.

It's an understandable move by desperate, grieving parents, but I can see a judge tossing the case. Whoever (presumably) killed her is the guilty party, and anything that obscures that fact is getting into dangerous territory. And the one primarily responsible for being drunk and in a dangerous situation was Lauren Spierer herself. The fact is that at least two of her three friends did try to take care of her, and now that might be held against them?

Yes, her friends should have done more -- we all hope our friends will be there for us through the rough patches and unanticipated crises. But "negligent friend" should never be a charge that ends up in a courtroom.