Popular culture can paint a particularly brutal picture of the average college campus. Students trying to fit in with their peers may feel like they must go to extreme lengths to be accepted. Fortunately, states like Texas and Louisiana have statutes that strive to protect students from the unreasonable and even potentially dangerous expectations of their peers. Specifically, both states have laws designed to discourage, if not outright punish, hazing. These statutes come in the wake of several incidents of personal injury and wrongful death resulting from universities' unregulated rushing practices.
Should a student find themselves forced to engage in dangerous and/or illegal behaviors to join an institution, that student and their parents may work with legal representatives to take legal action against the parties who endangered them. Should another party's humiliating negligence result in the untimely passing of a student, that student's family and legal representatives may have the right to file a wrongful death claim on their behalf.
What Students Need To Know About Hazing
The definition of hazing tends to be fluid between states. In general, however, the practice of hazing describes the persecution of a targeted party via the enforcement of meaningless and/or humiliating activities. Platforms like StopHazing further note that for activities to classify as hazing, victims must be subject to humiliating tasks, regardless of their consent, in a group setting.
In the most hypothetical sense, the practice of hazing is meant to break down barriers between parties looking to join an established institution. In the world of Greek life, hazing specifically allows members of fraternities and sororities to "test" incoming pledges', or new members', willingness to put up with humiliation to enjoy the benefits the Greek institutions offer. More often than not, hazing practices boil down to systematic bullying and can see incoming Greek hopefuls put at risk for serious injury, if not death.
Examples of modern-day hazing can include:
- Verbal abuse
- Coerced consumption of dangerous substances and/or legal substances in dangerous quantities
- Paddling or other forms of assault
- Exposure to dangerous elements
- Sleep deprivation
- Sexual assault
- General humiliation and/or abuse of another person's autonomy
In some cases, fraternities and sororities may expect pledges to report on one another's behavior, thus creating an atmosphere of distrust among parties interested in joining a particular Greek institution. Under certain circumstances, the prolonged facilitation of this kind of mistrust can qualify as mental or emotional abuse and thus constitute hazing in the eyes of an applicable civil court.
Students attending universities in Louisiana can specifically refer to Louisiana Revised Statutes §14:40.8 to determine whether or not the behavior they've been subject to may be classified as hazing in the eyes of the state's civil courts. Similarly, students in Texas may refer to Texas Educational Code §37.151 to learn more about the Lone Star state's definition of hazing.
Hazing Outside of Greek Life
While it's easy to associate hazing with Greek life, there are other environments where university students may endure behavior that civil courts consider hazing. University workplaces, clubs, and sports teams may all see students forced to undergo dangerous and/or humiliating activities to become "one of the group."
Fortunately, students do not have to prove their affiliation with a Greek institution to file a civil hazing complaint with Louisiana or Texas courts. Instead, students may present evidence of their affiliation with a particular university group, and the practices they believe qualify as hazing if they want to demand compensation for the losses they endured.
Students' Legal Responses To Illegal Hazing
Accusations of hazing are not, unfortunately, uncommon throughout the United States. Hundreds of universities have seen students bring forward their concerns regarding their treatment at the hands of affiliated Greek institutions, sports teams, and related groups.
Examples of civil hazing cases brought against individual students and institutions alike include:
- Santulli v. Phi Gamma Delta Students
- Runte v. Theta Chi, Rutgers University
- Strong-Fargas v. Alpha Kappa Alpha
- Humphries v. Barber, Penn State University
- Piazza v. Beta Theta Pi, Penn State University
In some of these cases, the injured parties and/or their representatives accuse universities and related authority figures of turning a blind eye to the hazing that defending students engaged in. Others claim that an injured student's concerns and/or state in the wake of dangerous activities were not taken seriously due to the "traditional" nature of the hazing process.
The history of hazing detailed here barely scratches the surface of the cases brought against individuals and institutions alike. Fortunately, the long record of civil hazing cases means that students currently contending with hazing-related injuries may readily bring forward legal precedent when demanding damages for the humiliation they endured at the hands of their peers.
How To Build a Personal Injury Lawsuit Against the Party Liable for Hazing Losses
Victims of hazing-related losses must compile a complaint against the party they believe to be responsible for their injuries if they want to take legal action against those offending parties. The injured party should bring forward the following with their complaint:
- Identify the specific individual and/or liable institution responsible for the injured party's hazing-related losses
- Elaborate on the nature of the hazing to which the injured party was subjected while presenting evidence thereof
- Calculate an estimate of the injured party's hazing-related losses while presenting evidence thereof
Personal injury complaints addressing hazing-related losses must appear before their applicable county clerks before their statute of limitations expires. In Louisiana, students and their families must abide by Louisiana Civil Code §3492, which gives applicable parties one year to compile their complaint and bring it to court. Comparatively, Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. §16.003 establishes a two-year statute of limitations for students and their families pursuing personal injury claims after incidents of hazing in Texas.
Whom To Hold Liable for Hazing Losses
It's not always easy to determine who bears the most responsibility for a student's passing after a hazing incident. Depending on what paperwork a student signed upon enrolling at a university or enlisting with a fraternity or sorority, liable parties may include:
- An individual student
- An individual fraternity and/or sorority
- A Greek institution
- A public and/or private university
When in doubt, the injured party and their representatives must consider the evidence found at the scene of the prosecution's injury. The prosecution can present a wide range of data, from video footage of the hazing incident to bystander reports, to better detail who was involved in the incident and what parties may subsequently be liable for the injured party's losses.
Universities May Include Liability Statements When Addressing On-Campus Hazing
Most universities across the nation have a statement in their student handbook stating that any instances of hazing conducted on campus may result in disciplinary action. Even so, there are some instances in which a university's relationship with a fraternity or sorority accused of engaging in hazing may be held liable for an injured student's losses.
Consider this scenario: a student comes to an academic advisor claiming that the sorority they pledged with hazed its incoming applicants. It is rare for a specific individual associated with that sorority to be legally liable for the damage done to the injured party's well-being. Instead, the injured party — and their legal representative — has to consider what the sorority's relationship with the university looks like before taking action against an offending party.
Specifically, if the sorority in question is sponsored by the university and/or has a house on university property, there's a chance that the university may be liable for any instances of hazing — even if the university has issued liability statements discouraging or forbidding its Greek institutions from humiliating conduct. However, if the alleged hazing took place at a sorority that exists off of a university's campus or at a Greek house that does not benefit from university funding, then that Greek institution may be individually liable for the injuries the incoming pledge endured.
Assigning liability in the wake of Greek hazing is no easy feat. It's in an injured student's best interest to take their concerns regarding their treatment to a personal injury lawyer before making any specific accusations against one party or another. Personal injury lawyers can help students and their families assess the nature of the harm done to them and bring together the evidence needed to hold applicable parties responsible for losses endured during the hazing process.
Addressing a Loved One's Wrongful Death After an Instance of Hazing
There are instances in which a group's efforts to humiliate or otherwise endanger a fellow student may result in more than that student's physical harm. There have been cases brought against institutions like Bowling Green University and Pi Kappa Alpha Corporation in the past specifically addressing instances wherein alleged hazing resulted in the untimely death of pressured students.
It can feel impossible to react to the death of a student, particularly one that allegedly took place at the hands of their fellow students. However, both Louisiana and Texas allow a deceased party's representatives to take legal action on the deceased's behalf. Texas only allows statutory beneficiaries to take this kind of legal action, meaning that only the deceased's parents, spouse, or children may take their case to civil court.
Louisiana's wrongful death policies allow the same parties to act on behalf of a deceased party in civil court. However, if the deceased does not have living parents to act on their behalf, the family's right to civil action may fall to the deceased's siblings. The deceased's grandparents may only take legal action on the deceased's behalf if there are no parents nor siblings to spearhead the deceased's case — or if the deceased's siblings are minors. Parties interested in taking legal action after a wrongful death tied to academic hazing may consult a wrongful death attorney for guidance.
What To Expect After Filing a Hazing Claim
Regardless of which state an injured party files their hazing complaint in, said parties must have their complaints assessed by an applicable county clerk before their cases can move forward. If a county clerk decides to approve an injured party's pursuit of hazing compensation, the injured party can summon an allegedly-liable party to either settlement negotiations or a civil trial.
Post-hazing settlement negotiations allow injured students and their representatives to meet with allegedly-liable parties outside of the courtroom. Throughout the negotiating process, applicable attorneys can discuss the extent of an injured student's losses and their desired damages. The defense, in turn, can consider the prosecution's complaint and argue against certain alleged losses without going before a judge. This process tends to resolve more quickly than a civil hazing trial, but it makes the injured party more directly responsible for the settlement they have the chance to receive after their experience.
A civil hazing trial, comparatively, puts control over a person's right to compensation in the hands of a civil jury. An injured party's opportunity to benefit from post-hazing compensation hinges on a personal injury attorney's ability to present evidence of hazing and its related injuries to that jury while the court is in session. This process tends to be a lengthy one, but certain circumstances may see an attending judge award a hazing victim punitive damages, or additional financial support to compensation for any gross indecencies or unreasonable treatment they suffered from at the hands of an offending defendant.
Students and Their Families Don't Have To Let Unlawful Hazing Go Unchallenged
Students can endure personal injuries or even lose their lives as a result of their peers' inappropriate behavior. While universities throughout Louisiana and Texas have taken steps to ban hazing from their campuses, parents and injured students may still find themselves in the position to take action against parties who disregard anti-hazing statutes. Specifically, injured parties and/or their representatives can collaborate with Morris & Dewett Injury Lawyers to take a liable individual or institution to civil court on hazing charges.
Anyone who's suffered losses due to inappropriate hazing may request damages equal to or even exceeding the value of those losses. Loved ones forced to endure the untimely passing of someone they care about due to inappropriate hazing practices may even receive applicable damages on the deceased's behalf. For more information on what rights injured parties have in the wake of an alleged hazing, interested parties can contact a personal injury lawyer and schedule a civil case consultation. Together, injured parties and their attorney can estimate the value of a civil hazing complaint.