January 14th, 2014

Liability in School Hazing Cases

Recent national news reports highlight a growing problem in schools – hazing incidents in high schools and colleges. Over 2 years ago, a Florida A&M marching band student died after a hazing ritual, during which he was beaten by at least a dozen band mates. Fourteen students were arrested and charged with crimes, and school officials resigned or were fired.

Civil Liability in School Hazing Cases – Schools & Other Parties

Schools

Depending on the state where the hazing occurred, victims of hazing may have valid civil lawsuits against schools in circumstances which show that the school had knowledge of the potential for hazing and failed to take appropriate corrective action.

For example, at a school in Pennsylvania, a particular student association has been known to haze its new members. There have been written reports that older students who run the association engage in bullying behavior, assaults, illegal use of drugs and provide alcohol to underage students, all part of hazing rituals. The school simply does nothing and continues to allow the student association to operate on campus. A new, underage member of the association gets drunk during an on-campus hazing ritual; he then falls into a ditch and dies.

In this scenario, the student’s parents may have a valid wrongful death claim against the school for allowing the student association to operate despite having had knowledge of hazing and misconduct. The crux of the claim is that the school could have reasonably foreseen that a student could be seriously hurt by the hazing activities of the student association.

Other Parties: Sororities and Fraternities

Most colleges and universities allow sororities and fraternities to directly operate on campus or otherwise be associated with the school. Greek life is huge on some college campuses, especially larger state universities. Hazing tends to peak when new members are rushing or pledging a particular sorority or fraternity.

If a sorority or fraternity engages in hazing behavior which results in injury, a hazing victim would likely have a valid case against the sorority or fraternity, as an organization separate from the school itself.

For example, at a school in New Jersey, a sorority engages in a pattern of hazing behavior which contributes to sexual violence and assault. Underage freshmen are given large amounts of alcohol and then are required to spend the night at a fraternity house. Many are expected to engage in sexual behavior with the fraternity members. Due to being drunk, one member is raped.

In this scenario, the student may have a valid civil claim against both the sorority and the fraternity, for negligence in creating a situation in which sexual violence was reasonably foreseeable. In addition, the school may also be liable, depending on the facts and circumstances, such as whether any school officials knew or had reason to know about the hazing rituals.

Criminal Liability in School Hazing Cases

It is important to note that when assaults occur during hazing rituals, the perpetrators may be arrested and charged with crimes. In the sorority hazing example above, the fraternity member should be arrested and charged with rape, and some members of the sorority may be charged with supplying alcohol to an underage person. In other hazing incidents, students may be charged with harassment, assault and/or conspiracy.

Resources: Stophazing.org

Hazing and School Liability Lawyers

If you or your child was the victim of hazing, and you would like to discuss a potential civil case, please call 800-220-7600. Please ask to speak to Guy D’Andrea. He is a former prosecutor who now brings civil claims on behalf of victims of crime, including victims of hazing in school settings.

**This website does not provide legal advice. Every case is unique and it is crucial to get a qualified, expert legal opinion prior to making any decisions about your case. See the full disclaimer at the bottom of this page.