When a fraternity, sorority, athletic, military, or an academic organization use hazing to initiate new members into their group, they often justify and defend the practice by arguing that it helps new members or recruits bond with each other, e.g., develop a brotherhood. However, as we have recently experienced at Florida State University, many hazing rituals are so brutal that they cause death or serious injuries to a new pledge. Such serious injuries often include alcohol poisoning, emotional disturbances, depression, anxiety, and other physical injuries.
In Florida and many other states, hazing which results in a wrongful death may be considered a third-degree felony. Hazing which results in death or injury to the pledge can also result in a civil lawsuit for either wrongful death or negligence. It is important to understand that even if the hazing victim gave his or her consent to undergo the ritual or initiation practice which led to the hazing, the person or entity responsible for committing hazing is still legally responsible for the injuries or death sustained by the pledge. And, more than one party may be found liable for the hazing. For example, in a civil action brought against a fraternity for alcohol poisoning which results from hazing, the victim has a cause of action against the leaders of the fraternity, the individual fraternity members who directly caused the injury, and the school officials who did not properly govern the fraternity or otherwise enforce the school’s anti-hazing rules.
Often times, it can be confusing about what type of behavior constitutes hazing, especially when there has been a long “accepted” and covered-up history of these hazing behaviors within an organization. The following types of activities are considered hazing and can result in a civil action for personal injury or wrongful death:
- Paddling, beating, kicking, punching, or whipping which result in a brain bleed, brain damage, fractured skull, fractured ribs, kidney damage, or death.
- Tattooing, branding, and burning which results in pain, third degree burns, permanent scarring and disfigurement.
- Confinement in a small area such as a car trunk or grave which results in injuries or death from prolonged lack of oxygen.
- Being forced to swim after alcohol intoxication that results in drowning.
- Being coerced to climb roofs, bridges, and ledges after alcohol intoxication, which can lead to injuries or death from falling from significant heights.
- Rape or other sexual abuse.
- Being coerced to drink too much alcohol and/or take narcotics, which can lead to injuries or death due to alcohol poisoning, overdose, fights, sexual abuse, car accidents, or falling.
It is devastating when a young man or woman’s life is severely damaged or cut short as a result of needless and abusive hazing. A civil action against the abusers is the best recourse for making the victim whole again. Such an action will also serve to punish the wrongdoer and make significant inroads towards changing the organization so the hazing will not happen again to someone else’s loved one.
Fasig Brooks has an experienced team of personal injury and wrongful death lawyers who handle hazing cases all over the State of Florida. If you think you may have been a victim of hazing, and you’re ready to hold the bullies and negligent officials accountable for their abuse, please contact us to discuss your potential case.