In many colleges and high schools throughout the United States, hazing has become a serious issue leading to severe injuries and even some fatalities. “Hazing” is another term for initiating a pledge or applicant into a club or group. One of the most common examples is joining a fraternity; for years, Americans knew the trope of suffering through bullying and hazing being a requirement for joining a fraternity. Today, many states have enacted laws banning the practice and cracking down on schools and universities that allow hazing to persist.
Dangers of Hazing
Hazing happens in many degrees, and some of it may be completely harmless. Many fraternities, sports teams, and other clubs want to see that applicants and pledges are truly dedicated to the groups they wish to join. Some types of initiation may include fun challenges like obstacle courses or scavenger hunts, and some college groups have even turned initiation toward charitable causes by encouraging donation drives and community service. Informal initiation traditions are typically the most dangerous.
Lawsuits over hazing typically result from one of two possible circumstances: either those performing the hazing were negligent in some way that resulted in the claimed damages, or the offending party committed an intentional tort during hazing, such as a physical or sexual assault. For example, underage drinking is a well-known trend on American college campuses, and a fraternity may host a pledge party where pledges drink to excess. If the fraternity continued to provide alcohol to a person who was already intoxicated or an underage partygoer during hazing rituals, or they do not seek medical care when someone obviously needs it, the fraternity brothers could be liable for negligence.
Some hazing rituals have actually involved physical beatings, sexual abuse and degradation, public humiliation, and many other damaging incidents that have resulted in physical and psychological trauma for victims. In cases over intentional torts like these, defendants often face civil claims from victims and their families as well as criminal charges and disciplinary action from the defendant’s school or institution.
Options for Recovery
If you or a loved one suffered injuries due to hazing you may have several potential routes to securing compensation for your damages. For example, if you sustained damages through an intentional tort committed during fraternity hazing, you would likely have grounds for a lawsuit against the fraternity members who committed the tort. However, you may also be able to take legal action against the school if the school failed to address known hazing problems or did not have clear policies in place prohibiting the practice.
Plaintiffs in hazing injury cases may be able to secure compensation for their medical expenses and pain and suffering resulting from hazing. They may also claim their attorneys’ fees, lost income, and other damages resulting from a hazing incident. A plaintiff in such a case may receive punitive damages as well if the judge hearing the case decides that a defendant’s behavior was grossly negligent or showed reckless disregard for the safety of others. A judge may also order a school to pay punitive damages for failing to address hazing problems on campus, negligence, or ineffective policies.
A lawsuit for a hazing injury may involve one or more defendants, so injured individuals in these situations need to secure legal representation as soon as possible to explore their options for legal recourse. Suing a government-controlled institution is very different than filing a lawsuit against a private person or company, and there is a much shorter statute of limitations a plaintiff must meet to proceed with such a claim. An experienced personal injury lawyer can help a victim determine his or her best options for recovery after a hazing injury.