Can Hazing Victims File Lawsuits?

March 11, 2020 / Chip Cooper

Of the five men who died last fall, Ivan Aguirre was the oldest. He was 20. The other four were still in their teens: Antonio Tsialas was 18; Dylan Hernandez and Samuel Martinez were 19; Jack Schoenig was just 17. They all lost their lives trying to join a fraternity.

Over the past 15 years, 80 college students have died and thousands of others have suffered physical and emotional injuries from hazing. 

In many states, hazing is considered to be a misdemeanor or other minor offense, so victims and families turn to civil courts for justice. Depending on the situation, they can file a personal injury, wrongful death, or negligence lawsuit against those who participated in the hazing and organizations responsible for providing oversight and training. Any damages that result can help pay for medical bills, costs associated with missed school or work, and, in the most heartbreaking cases, funeral expenses. The statute of limitations for making a claim is typically two years.

What is Hazing, and Why Does it Happen?

Hazing is a type of initiation into a group, a secretive rite of passage for pledges to prove they are worthy of belonging. Typically associated with fraternities and sororities, hazing happens in other groups, too, including sports teams, marching bands, academic clubs, and police and fire departments.

Too often, members are not held accountable because of outdated ideas like “Boys will be boys” or “He knew what he was getting into,” but that’s not how hazing works. Like so many cases we see, hazing involves people in a position of power taking advantage of someone who trusts them and will do unspeakable things only because they want to join the group. A large group of young people (typically young men) with no adult oversight can quickly get out of hand as members try to one-up each other with extreme hazing ideas. Then when something goes wrong, they don’t call for help or perform life-saving measures, making the situation even worse.

Fraternity & Sorority Hazing Lawsuits

Many groups have policies against hazing, but it continues to happen on campuses across the country. Fraternities and sororities haze pledges by making them stay up all night or stand out in the cold for hours. They humiliate them, beat them with paddles, and force them to consume large quantities of alcohol and drugs.

Multiple hazing lawsuits are working their way through the legal system today. Here are a few examples:

Three Penn State students were convicted in the 2017 hazing death of Timothy Piazza. Piazza fell downstairs after drinking alcohol and suffered severe head trauma, but many hours passed before his fraternity brothers called for help.

Britteny Starling sued her sorority at the University of California, Berkeley, after being forced to act like a trash can for other members and clean juice off the floor with her back. She also had to stay awake all night and was prohibited from using the bathroom.

Kellen Johansen lost an eye in a hazing incident involving fireworks. He filed a lawsuit for $8.3 million against Linfield College, Pi Kappa Alpha, and the fraternity president who lit the firework.

Determining if Hazing Victims Have Legal Grounds for a Lawsuit

No one should be injured or killed for simply trying to join a group. If you are the victim of hazing, Cooper Elliott will fight for you from every angle to hold people accountable. Many parents file hazing lawsuits to find out what happened to their son. They want answers, and they want to protect other families from the grief and suffering caused by senseless abuse.

Our legal experts will listen to your story and discuss your options. Then we’ll get to work filing public records requests, scouring public records, and interviewing people to find out what went wrong and who is responsible. If your situation does not result in a claim, you won’t have to pay for our services. 

Connect with us. We’re here to help.

The outcome of any client’s case will depend on the particular legal and factual circumstances of the case.

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