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Everything To Know About Filing a Hazing Lawsuit

Hazing often involves subjecting a person to extreme mental or physical harassment. This form of bullying often happens in schools, the military, and sometimes at the workplace. Hazing can result in serious physical or emotional harm and even loss of life. Helping Survivors offers important information on how hazing victims can take legal action.

Key Takeaways

  • Victims of hazing may be able to file lawsuits against individuals, organizations, or institutions responsible for the harm suffered to seek compensation for damages such as medical expenses, lost wages, and emotional distress and a formal acknowledgement of the harm that happened to them.
  • The time frame, or statute of limitations, for filing a hazing lawsuit varies by state, with deadlines ranging from one to several years after the incident, making it important for victims to seek legal advice promptly.
  • Determining liability in hazing cases can be challenging, as it may involve multiple parties, including the individuals directly involved in the hazing, the school organization they belong to, and the institution overseeing the organization. This is why finding a lawyer who specializes in hazing related cases can be critical — and Helping Survivors can assist with this.

What Is Hazing?

Hazing is typically an initiation process where a group subjects a prospective member to mental or physical harassment and humiliation. The practice is common with sports teams and social organizations such as fraternities or sororities. But it also can happen in the military or at the workplace.

The nonprofit group StopHazing.org refers to a spectrum of behaviors that constitute hazing. Those on the “low” end of the spectrum are more common and more likely to go unrecognized and unreported than those on the “high” end. These are some common behaviors on that spectrum:

Intimidation – Low

  • Deception
  • Social isolation
  • Use of demeaning names
  • Silent periods with implied threats for violations

Harassment – Middle

  • Sleep deprivation
  • Sexual simulations
  • Verbal abuse
  • Threats or implied threats
  • Degrading or humiliating acts

Violence – High

  • Forced alcohol or drug consumption
  • Beating, paddling, or other physical assault
  • Water intoxication
  • Sexual assault

Hazing can have long-lasting mental and physical effects. A 2023 study found that about 12 percent of U.S. combat soldiers experienced hazing during deployment. Those who had been hazed had an increased risk for mental health conditions such as:

  • Major depression
  • Explosive anger
  • Post-traumatic stress
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Substance use disorder

Hazing can also result in serious physical harm. In October 2021, Danny Santulli, an 18-year-old University of Missouri student, suffered serious brain damage after a hazing ritual in which he was forced to consume extremely high levels of alcohol. He was brought to the hospital in cardiac arrest and now cannot walk, talk, or see.

Unfortunately, people have also lost their lives due to hazing. In 2021, college students Adam Oakes and Stone Foltz died after being forced to consume high amounts of alcohol during hazing incidents at different universities.

Last Date Modified
March 18, 2024
Content Reviewed By:

Kathryn Kosmides
Managing Director | Helping Survivors

Laws Against Hazing

Most states have laws against the more severe forms of hazing, but they vary from state to state. One example is Florida, where the Chad Meredith Act defines hazing to include any physical brutality, any activity that would lead someone to experience extreme mental stress, or any activity that would adversely affect the mental health or dignity of the person.

The law uses the word “student,” but it is not limited to pledging rituals at fraternities or sororities. Depending on the severity of the act, a person may be guilty of a misdemeanor or felony.

Filing a Hazing Lawsuit

If you or a loved one has been a victim of hazing, you may be entitled to file suit and pursue compensation for your damages.

The decision to file a lawsuit is not an easy one to make. This is especially true when considering an action against an organization or group you wished to join. However, there are many benefits to filing suit, including the following reasons:

  • Send a message that hazing is unacceptable behavior
  • Punish organizations and individuals who allow hazing
  • Force institutions to implement anti-hazing policies or enforce the policies already in place
  • Spur change in a social organization’s culture
  • Recover funds to pay for medical expenses such as mental health treatment
  • Recover lost wages and lost financial support

Sometimes it can be challenging to figure out the person or body responsible for the harm suffered by the hazing. You may want to sue the individuals present during the hazing, the social organization, or the institution that the organization falls under. Even if only one person performed the act of hazing, such as giving someone alcohol, others might share legal responsibility.

In 2012, 19-year-old Northern Illinois University student David Bogenberger lost his life after he was forced to drink alcohol in a hazing event. Nearly two dozen fraternity members pled guilty to criminal charges. In 2018, David’s family settled with several parties for $14 million.

After deciding if you can sue and who to sue, you then file your lawsuit. The process can vary depending on where you live, but these are the basic steps:

  • File a complaint with the court. This complaint names the person or body you are suing — this is the defendant.
  • The opposition responds. The defendant will respond to your complaint by filing an answer with the court.
  • Discovery. Both sides go on a fact-finding mission to gather evidence about the details of the case.
  • Pretrial proceedings. Both sides make requests to the court about technical parts of the trial.
  • Trial by judge or jury. Your trial may only be before a judge, who will make the final decision. If you have a jury trial, the jury will make the final decision. During the trial, each side presents their case.

To help build your case, document the events leading up to, during, and after the hazing incident. The victim of hazing might have emails from group members or others, for example. Also, make a list of possible witnesses, including all those who witnessed or know about the incident.

Hazing lawsuits can be complicated, especially if the hazing has caused a serious injury. You should consider hiring a lawyer with experience handling hazing lawsuits. A skilled and knowledgeable lawyer can counsel you throughout the process, handle all aspects of the litigation, negotiate a settlement, and advocate for your interests throughout the proceedings.

How Do Courts Decide on Damages?

If you succeed in your hazing lawsuit, you will receive monetary compensation, referred to as damages. While this does not undo the mental and physical harm caused by the hazing, it can provide some measure of justice and cover your monetary losses. You may recover damages for lost wages, medical expenses, and pain and suffering. If harm is particularly severe, the court may also consider punitive damages.

What Are the Statute of Limitations for a Hazing Lawsuit?

The statute of limitations provides the deadline for filing a lawsuit. The statute of limitations depends on your state and the details of your legal claim. For example, in California, the statute of limitations for personal injury cases, which includes hazing lawsuits, is two years.

What Evidence Is Needed When Filing a Hazing Lawsuit?

You need evidence that the harm the person experienced was the direct result of the hazing. Examples of evidence might include medical records, witness testimony, and physical evidence obtained at the hazing scene.

Who Is Liable in a Hazing Lawsuit?

Many parties might be liable in a hazing lawsuit, but that depends heavily on the details of the case. An organization may sometimes be held responsible for its members’ actions. In a case of hazing perpetrated by members of a college fraternity, the fraternity members, others present during the hazing incident who assisted, the local chapter of the fraternity organization, the national fraternal organization, and the college might all be liable.

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