Campus hazing is a dangerous and sometimes deadly reality for students. The popular ritual of putting new members of a sorority, fraternity, or other club through rigorous physical and mental “tests” before they can join can end in serious or fatal injuries. At least one person has died from hazing-related activities every year since 1970. The majority of these deaths – 82% –involve alcohol. The violent and gruesome nature of many campus hazing injuries leaves parents and students wondering if it’s possible to sue someone and receive compensation.
Potential Legal Solutions for Hazing Injuries
A parent or student may be able to sue a school, individual, or another entity for negligence or intentional harm to a student after a hazing injury. Under the legal theory of negligence, a person could sue for a hazing injury if someone’s carelessness or failure to act within his/her standards of care caused the injury. To have a case of negligence against a defendant for a hazing injury, a plaintiff must prove:
- The defendant owed the student a duty of care. This may be a supervisor or school’s duty to oversee the practices of its organizations and ensure they are safe for students.
- The defendant breached his or her duties. A school or individual failed to supervise or prevent a student hazing injury through negligence, carelessness, or recklessness.
- The breach caused the student’s injuries or death. Because of the school or individual’s negligence, the student sustained injuries or died during a dangerous hazing ritual.
- The plaintiff suffered damages. The parent or student suing the defendant suffered damages from hazing, such as physical injuries, mental anguish, or medical bills.
These four elements make up the foundation of every negligence-based personal injury case and may enable a parent to sue someone for hazing injuries. The other legal theory that may come into play with a hazing injury is intentional tort. A parent may sue an individual for assault, battery, false imprisonment, and inflicting emotional distress for a hazing injury. In an intentional tort case, the parent may win compensation for a student’s pain and suffering and medical expenses, as well as punitive damages for the intentional nature of the crime.
Who Is Responsible for Campus Hazing Injuries?
The question of whether it’s possible to sue for a hazing injury or death comes down largely to a determination of fault. If students sustain injuries of their own accord during a hazing activity, such as knowingly putting themselves through a task after someone has properly warned them of its dangers, a parent may not be able to sue. In most hazing incidents, however, the student was not aware of an activity’s risk of injury or death. Even if a student was aware of a potential threat, it may still be possible to assign fault of injury to a negligent party.
A parent may be able to sue the school the organization or club belongs to under the right circumstances. If a hazing injury was the direct or indirect result of a school’s lack of supervision, hazing ritual encouragement in any way, or failure to oversee an organization’s practices, it may be possible to place liability with the school. Since most schools are government agencies, a plaintiff would need to follow the rules of filling a tort claim. In Pennsylvania, the injured party must send a notice of a claim to the defendant within six months of the incident. A plaintiff may also be able to sue an individual for a hazing injury.
Naming defendants and understanding the specific legal theories that may come into play for your hazing injury case requires speaking to a personal injury attorney in Pennsylvania about your particular situation.