People's Law Guide
HAZED & ABUSED
Films such as Animal House sometimes portray hazing to be humorous. But students who have been sexually abused, branded with hot prods, or badly beaten by paddling or caning, don't find this type of exploitation to be funny. And neither do their parents, many of whom have grieved at their sons' and daughters' funerals. Frequently, these deaths occur from alcohol poisoning or activities made even more dangerous by episodes of heavy drinking.
Though most people associate hazing with fraternities, fewer people know that some sports teams, marching bands, drama departments, cheerleading squads, ROTC units, and other campus organizations brutalize and humiliate members, too. And mothers and fathers rarely anticipate that hazing practices occur at middle schools and high schools.
A nationwide study on high school hazing completed in 2000 by Alfred University found that every high school organization, except newspaper and yearbook staffs, had significantly high levels of hazing. Researchers classified hazing into three types and determined that certain types of organizations were prone to haze members in forms falling in one or more categories:
High school students, by and large, don't have a good understanding of what hazing is. Only 15% initially stated they were hazed, but twice that percentage later reported committing dangerous acts or abusing substances when accepted into some group. Almost 44% said they didn't know whether hazing was or was not legal in their own state. Surprisingly, hazing was as prevalent in states which outlawed the practice as elsewhere. Florida Statute 1006.63 prohibits hazing. Even when nobody is harmed, persons found guilty of inducing others to participate in hazing can be sentenced up to 364 days in jail. When hazing results in serious bodily injury or death, prison terms resulting from hazing charges can last as long as five years. Florida's anti-hazing law does not stop prosecutors from filing criminal counts permitting even longer prison terms, such as homicide charges. Despite potential terms of incarceration, long probationary periods, fines and criminal convictions which make it difficult to obtain employment due to pre-hiring background checks, students in informal groups and well-structured organizations continue to demand that their peers participate in events capable of causing psychological and physical harm, and from time to time, even deaths. Judges are not permitted to allow defendants charged with criminal hazing offenses to offer as legal defenses that persons they are accused of hazing consented to participate in risky behaviors.
Hazing, which involves mean-spirited demands which harass, humiliate or demean others, is not only bothersome and annoying, it is frequently psychologically harmful and sometimes quite dangerous. Ironically, those injured when hazed, due to shame or not wanting to cause harm to come to those who put them in peril, often lie to doctors about what caused their injuries, according to Michelle Finkel, MD, whose report was published in 2002 in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine. This led Finkel to conclude that hazing victims have much in common with persons injured by domestic violence. Finkel said physicians need to be particularly suspicious of explanations for non-typical injuries occurring during club, group or team events. Among collegians, alcohol plays a role in 65 to 95 percent of hazing incidents, was involved in 80% of paralysis injuries and nearly 90 percent of deaths, according to a 1998 study by the National Intrafraternity Council. Though middle and high school students find it more difficult than college students to obtain alcohol, drinking sometimes plays a role in hazing incidents involving these younger students.
Lawsuits for Hazing Incidents
Students 18 years of age and older may file lawsuits under their own name. Parents may file lawsuits in their own names on behalf of children 17 years of age and younger, and on behalf of sons or daughters of any age who have died in hazing incidents. When hazing occurs in high school or middle school, lawsuits typically name as the defendant the school or school district. Lawsuits involving non-fraternity or non-sorority college hazing incidents, such as those involving marching bands, and other campus clubs or organizations, are usually filed against the college or university itself. When students are injured or killed in fraternity or sorority hazing tragedies, the local chapter and the National Organization it is a member of are sued. Depending upon case facts, fraternity or sorority hazing lawsuits may also name the college or university as a defendant, too. Sometimes, hazing lawsuits involving all types of school organizations name specific student members as co-defendants. While the students themselves rarely have sufficient money to pay for out of court settlements or trial judgments, their parents or homeowners insurance coverage of the parents' homes may be a source of financial recovery. Depending upon case facts, fraternity or sorority hazing lawsuits may also name the college or university, too. Faculty members serving as advisors to organizations accused of hazing are frequently named as co-defendants.
Some Lawsuits Filed Against College Fraternities & Specific Members:
In lawsuits against colleges or universities or the National Organization a fraternity or sorority chapter was affiliated with, its typically alleged officials knew or should have known that hazing was occurring at the fraternity or sorority chapter. Lawsuits naming the chapter itself accuse the organization of negligence. Students who are named specifically in these lawsuits are cited for their personal misconduct.
Some Lawsuits Filed Against High Schools or School Boards:
These lawsuits typically allege that school officials knew or should have known that hazing was occurring in the group which their daughter or son was a participant in.