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.
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?
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.
Consulting With an Attorney
Legal action can help victims harmed by hazing recover some of what they have lost. Because the process is technical and often emotionally taxing, consulting with an attorney with hazing lawsuit experience is critical.
Helping Survivors can help answer your questions about potential legal action and connect you to the best legal resources.