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Can Hazing Victims File Lawsuits?

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

In the fall of 2019, five young men died. 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.

In many states, hazing is considered to be a misdemeanor or other minor offense, so victims and families turn to civil courts for justice. 

Ohio recently enacted an updated criminal Anti-Hazing Law in 2021. Collin’s Law was signed into law by Governor Mike DeWine after the tragic deaths of Collin Wiant and Stone Foltz – both families are represented by our team of Cooper Elliott hazing attorneys.

Depending on the situation, victims of hazing or their families can file a personal injury, wrongful death, or negligence lawsuit against those who participated in the hazing, the organizations responsible for providing oversight and training, and even the universities who failed to protect students. 

Read on to learn more from our Ohio attorneys about how these cases work, and whether they might apply to your situation.

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Too often, members are not held accountable because of outdated ideas like “Boys will be boys” or “He knew what he was getting into,” but that’s not how hazing works.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 and dangerous hazing. Then when things inevitably go wrong, they don’t call for help or perform life-saving measures, making the situation even worse.  Instead, they often try to protect themselves by lying to the police or universities. 

Filing a lawsuit can hold perpetrators accountable, stop these practices from occurring in the future, and provide compensation to the victim and the victim’s family. 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. 

In Ohio, the statute of limitations for making a claim regarding hazing is typically two years.

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:

  • Here in Ohio, the family of Stone Foltz filed a wrongful death lawsuit against 22 individuals from the school’s Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity after Stone died due to hazing. Our attorneys at Cooper Elliott are determined to help this grieving family receive justice for their loss and keep other students safe from dangerous hazing practices.
  • Another Ohio case that our attorneys at Cooper Elliott are working on is the case of Collin Wiant – a student at Ohio University who died in a hazing ritual in November 2018. Collin’s Law is named in his honor.
  • 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 or a loved one 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 children. They want answers, and they want to protect other families from the grief and suffering caused by senseless abuse.

Our Ohio-based legal team 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 recovery, you won’t have to pay for our services.

Contact Cooper Elliott today

There are no excuses for hazing. And our attorneys at Cooper Elliott work hard to ensure the number of hazing cases decreases nationwide. If you or a loved one has been a victim of hazing, please do not hesitate to reach out to us. Schedule your free evaluation with a member of our legal team today.