Hazing Abuse Lawsuits

In this post, we will explain how colleges, universities, fraternities, and other schools can be held liable when students are injured or sexually abused in connection with hazing activities. Victims of college hazing that went too far can sue the university and/or fraternity for negligence and get financial compensation. This post will explain the basics of college hazing lawsuits and look at the settlement amounts and jury payouts in a college hazing injury case.


Before we get into the heart of what these cases are about, let’s look at some recent news on recent hazing litigation and law.

March 4, 2024 – University of Maryland Suspends Fraternity Recruiting

The University of Maryland has suspended all social and recruitment activities by fraternities and sororities on campus pending an investigation into allegations of unsafe hazing and other activities. The suspension impacts 21 fraternities and 16 sororities on campus. The University declined to label the alleged misconduct “hazing,” instead referring to it as “activities that have threatened the safety and well-being of members of the University community.”

February 22, 2024 – New Hazing Lawsuits Filed in South Carolina

In a lawsuit filed in Charleston County, South Carolina, a family alleges severe hazing by the Sigma Chi Fraternity at the College of Charleston. The complaint details a series of abuses inflicted upon a freshman who joined the fraternity in the spring of 2023. These abuses include forced excessive alcohol consumption, physical violence, exposure to illegal drugs, and psychological torment designed to humiliate and control pledges.

The initiation process described in the lawsuit involved a series of degrading rituals: pledges were surrounded, screamed at, made to drink until vomiting, and subjected to physical abuse that resulted in injuries, such as being hit in the eye. They were also forced into cleaning duties under the influence of alcohol and drugs and subjected to further hazing that included being pelted with food and household items and demeaning tasks that were allegedly part of the fraternity’s tradition.

The lawsuit accuses the fraternity members of acting recklessly and negligently within their roles and claims that the college and the national Sigma Chi Fraternity failed to supervise the local chapter or protect students from known dangers. As a direct result of these hazing practices, Jaxson suffered severe physical, mental, and emotional distress, leading to his withdrawal from the college, forfeiture of a scholarship, and significant deterioration of his mental health.

The family seeks damages exceeding ten million dollars, alleging negligence, gross negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and outrage on the part of the defendants, which include individual fraternity members, the local and national fraternity organizations, and the College of Charleston. The lawsuit highlights a systemic failure to prevent hazing and protect students, demanding accountability for the harm caused to Jaxson and his family.

February 21, 2024 – New Hazing Law Proposed

A New Jersey bill seeks to revoke state financial aid for college students convicted of hazing, building on 2021 anti-hazing laws inspired by the death of Penn State student Timothy Piazza. This legislation aims to strengthen hazing penalties, requiring middle schools, high schools, and higher education institutions to enforce anti-hazing policies. The bill aligns with federal efforts mandating colleges to report hazing incidents and educate students about it. It also responds to ongoing issues, highlighted by a 2022 lawsuit involving a Rutgers University freshman injured in a hazing incident. In the past, this bill has faced legislative challenges. It should pass – we need more deterrents against hazing.

February 19, 2024 – Theta Xi Fraternity Suspended at Shippensburg University Over Hazing Claims

Shippensburg University has placed the Theta Xi fraternity on interim suspension following allegations of hazing reported earlier this week. The incident, which allegedly occurred over the weekend, is currently under investigation by the university’s Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards. During the suspension, Theta Xi is not recognized as a campus group and is barred from participating in any on or off-campus activities. The hazing allegations were initially posted anonymously on social media, casting a shadow over the fraternity’s stated goal of fostering a supportive and growth-oriented college environment for its members.

January 7, 2024 – New Lawsuit Against Syracuse

A new lawsuit filed in federal court in New York reveals a disturbing incident from August 1991, involving a then 18-year-old freshman at Syracuse University. The plaintiff alleges she was raped by a member of the Sigma Chi Fraternity during an event that was co-sponsored by Sigma Chi and Delta Delta Delta sorority.

This is not a university hazing lawsuit. But it raises the key issue in many hazing lawsuits: the liability of the fraternity, sorority, and Syracuse University to protect students from hazing and sexual assaults.  This delves into the historical context of known risks within fraternity and sorority environments, particularly related to sexual misconduct and alcohol misuse.

Despite the organizations’ awareness of these risks, evidenced by insurance industry assessments and internal policies aimed at managing them, the lawsuit argues that significant, effective reforms were not implemented. This neglect by national fraternities, sororities, and the university to adequately safeguard students echoes concerns commonly raised in hazing lawsuits, pointing to a systemic issue of oversight and accountability in Greek life and collegiate institutions.

The lawsuit not only seeks justice for the traumatic experiences of the plaintiff but also highlights the need for meaningful change in how these organizations and universities address and prevent sexual violence and other harms within their communities.

December 16, 2023 – Texas A&M Hazing Lawsuit

Ten members of the Corps of Cadets at Texas A&M University are accused in a lawsuit of subjecting a fellow cadet from the Houston area to acts of hazing that were both degrading and humiliating. The incident allegedly took place last year in a darkened campus dormitory, where the student claims he was coerced under false pretenses into a room, subjected to participate in a simulated sexual act by one of the Corps members, and then bound between two beds with an apple in his mouth, mimicking a roasted pig. According to the lawsuit, while some of the accused students did nothing but watch or laugh, they all breached university policies and state hazing laws by failing to intervene.

Texas A&M University, though not a defendant in the lawsuit, has acknowledged the incident and stated that appropriate actions have been taken.

The victim filed the lawsuit in October, seeking damages in excess of $1 million for the mental suffering he claims will affect him for life. The case was lodged in Dallas County, home to at least one defendant, though the plaintiff hails from Harris County.

The lawsuit details the events leading up to the hazing, beginning with an invitation under the guise of discussing freshman Corps member training. Despite feeling uneasy upon arrival and attempting to leave, the plaintiff alleges he was forcibly kept in the room, dimly illuminated by a single red LED light strip. Despite initially complying with a demand to sweep the floor for his release, he was further humiliated through a series of degrading acts culminating in being bound and displayed in a dehumanizing manner, with photos of the incident being shared among students.

October 5, 2023 – Brain Injury Lawsuit Filed Against University of Alabama Fraternity

A University of Alabama fraternity is being sued for hazing that allegedly resulted in a pledge suffering a traumatic brain injury. Identified only as H.B.. The lawsuit accuses Sigma Alpha Epsilon of assault, negligence, and fraud. Allegations include being punched, sprayed with water, compelled to use racial slurs, and hit with a basketball, leading to hospitalization and a diagnosis of traumatic brain injury and post-concussive syndrome. Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s national organization is investigating and stated members involved in misconduct would face accountability.

Hazing Abuse Lawsuit Claims

Hazing lawsuits often involve multiple legal allegations against the defendants, including individual members of organizations, the organizations themselves, and sometimes the educational institutions. The decision as to who to sue in a university hazing lawsuit often hinges on which defendant has the insurance or resources to contribute to a settlement amount or jury payout.

The legal allegations you see in a college hazing lawsuit are grounded in the harmful actions that constitute hazing, which can lead to physical, emotional, and psychological damages.

Here’s an overview of the common legal allegations made in hazing lawsuits, using information from the mentioned complaint as well as general knowledge:

Negligence: This claim is based on the failure of the defendants to exercise a standard of care that a reasonably prudent person would in a similar situation. Hazing cases often involve the failure to prevent harm to pledges or members, including physical injuries and emotional distress. The complaint alleges that the defendants knew or should have known their actions were dangerous and could cause harm.  When hazing lawsuits include negligence claims against national fraternities or sororities and colleges or universities, these claims typically focus on the alleged failure of these organizations and institutions to prevent hazing practices, properly supervise their chapters or students, and enforce anti-hazing policies effectively. These legal actions often contend that the national organizations and educational institutions had a duty to ensure the safety and well-being of their members or students but failed to meet this obligation. Here’s how negligence claims usually target these entities:

Gross Negligence: This goes beyond simple negligence and implies a conscious, voluntary act or omission in reckless disregard of a legal duty and the consequences to another party. In the context of hazing, it might involve forcing individuals to consume dangerous amounts of alcohol or subjecting them to severe physical abuse, knowing such actions could result in significant harm.  What is the practical difference between negligence and gross negligence?  In many jurisdictions, the distinction is whether punitive damages are available.  Punitive damages not only drive jury payouts but the pressure of punitive damages leads to larger settlements in college hazing lawsuits.

Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress (NIED): This claim is based on causing emotional distress through negligent actions. Unlike intentional infliction of emotional distress, NIED does not require the action to be intentional. The lawsuit alleges that the defendants’ actions caused severe emotional and psychological harm to the victims.

Outrage (Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress): This claim involves actions that are so extreme and outrageous that they go beyond all possible bounds of decency. The conduct must be intended to cause severe emotional distress or done with reckless disregard of the likelihood of causing such distress.  It is a high bar yet that bar is often cleared in university hazing abuse lawsuits. This involves the kind of demeaning, dangerous, or humiliating activities forced upon pledges.

Breach of Duty of Care: This legal allegation is related to the obligation of organizations, including fraternities and educational institutions, to protect members or students from foreseeable harm, including hazing practices. It argues that the defendants breached their duty by allowing a culture of hazing to persist.

Wrongful Death (in cases where hazing results in death): While not applicable in every hazing lawsuit, wrongful death claims may be pursued if hazing activities lead to a fatality. This would allege that the negligent or intentional actions of the defendants directly caused the victim’s death.

Punitive Damages: Though not a separate cause of action, claims for punitive damages are often included in hazing lawsuits to punish defendants for particularly egregious conduct and to deter similar behavior in the future. The complaint specifies seeking punitive damages in addition to actual damages due to the defendants’ conduct. Again, the threat of punitive damages can really drive compensation payouts in hazing lawsuits.


The Claims That Reach the Deep Pockets

That is the general breakdown of the type of claims in a hazing lawsuit.  Let’s look closer now at the types of specific claims against national fraternities and sororities and the college or university. Because that is where you find real compensation in these lawsuits, not in suing 19-year-olds.

In lawsuits involving hazing, when negligence claims are leveled against national fraternities, sororities, and academic institutions, they usually center on the organizations’ and institutions’ purported inability to avert hazing activities, adequately oversee their chapters or students, and implement anti-hazing measures with vigor. Such legal proceedings frequently argue that these national bodies and educational entities bear the responsibility of safeguarding the welfare and security of their affiliates or students—a duty they purportedly neglected to fulfill.

So these negligence claims highlight the expectation that both national organizations and educational institutions not only establish anti-hazing policies but also actively work to enforce these policies and create an environment where hazing is not tolerated. The goal of including these entities in hazing lawsuits is often to hold them accountable for systemic failures that contribute to the perpetuation of hazing culture, seeking to compel changes that will prevent future incidents.

Here’s an overview of how these negligence claims typically address these entities:

National Fraternities and Sororities

Duty of Care: Plaintiffs argue that national fraternities and sororities have a duty of care to their members, including pledges, to provide a safe environment. This includes implementing and enforcing comprehensive anti-hazing policies.

Failure to Supervise: The lawsuits often claim that national organizations failed to adequately supervise their local chapters, allowing a culture of hazing to flourish. This can include not providing enough training on anti-hazing policies, failing to monitor compliance, or not taking disciplinary action against chapters known to engage in hazing.

Failure to Enforce Anti-Hazing Policies: Even if a national organization has anti-hazing policies in place, plaintiffs may argue that these policies were not effectively enforced, leading to an environment where hazing practices could continue unabated.  Expectations need to be crystal clear.

Failure to Warn: There may also be claims that the national organizations failed to warn prospective members about the risks of hazing within the organization or did not provide adequate information about how to report hazing incidents.

Colleges, Universities, and Other Schools

Duty of Care: Similar to national organizations, colleges and universities are argued to have a duty of care to their students. This includes creating a safe campus environment where students are protected from the harm of hazing. These kids are adults… but not adults and every administration knows this.

Failure to Supervise: Institutions of higher education may be targeted for failing to adequately supervise student organizations, including fraternities and sororities, particularly when they are aware or should have been aware of hazing practices.  Society is no longer tolerating “kids will be kids” when this can lead to disaster.

Failure to Enforce Policies: Colleges and universities typically have their own anti-hazing policies and are expected to enforce these policies strictly. Negligence claims may arise when institutions fail to take adequate measures against known hazing practices or when their enforcement mechanisms are ineffective. In terms of jury appeal, this is a strong claim if procedures were not followed. Juries believe schools should do what they say they are going to do.

Negligent Admission of Dangerous Organizations: In some cases, colleges or universities may be accused of negligently allowing fraternities or sororities with histories of dangerous hazing practices to operate on campus, thus endangering students.

Failure to Educate: There might also be claims that the institution failed to educate students and student organizations about the dangers of hazing and the importance of reporting hazing activities.

Hazing Abuse Settlements and Verdicts

Below are example hazing abuse lawsuits and settlements.

  • $5,000,000 Settlement (Oklahoma 2024): This is a high school hazing case. The Kingfisher High School football program faced allegations of longstanding abuse, including sexual assault and physical violence, primarily attributed to Coach Jeff Myers and his staff. Accusations detail incidents in locker rooms and team buses, spanning nearly two decades, with claims of district and state education officials’ inaction. Legal actions that followed included charges against the head coach and others for child neglect and abuse. The school district agreed to settle the claims for $5 million.
  • $10,000,000 Settlement (Ohio 2023):  Stone Foltz, a 20-year-old student from Delaware, Ohio, embarked on his collegiate journey at Bowling Green State University.  He pledged at Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity (“PIKE”). During Bowling Green’s pledge week, the leaders of PIKE organized a “Big/Little” event—an initiation ritual where new pledges, are paired with older fraternity members. A notorious tradition at this event required new members to attempt to finish an entire bottle of alcohol, a daunting and dangerous challenge for anyone, let alone young students with varying levels of alcohol tolerance. Tragically, the consequences of this ritual proved fatal for Stone. He was found unconscious at his apartment and died of fatal ethanol intoxication.  Bowling Green did the right thing.  It got rid of the fraternity and developed an anti-hazing plan that introduced a prevention coordinator and made it easier for students to report hazing incidents. Bowling Green paid the family a $3 million settlement; Pi Kappa Alpha paid $7 million.
  • $6,100,000 Verdict (Louisiana 2023): Eighteen-year-old Max Gruver went to a “Bible Study” event hosted by the Phi Delta Theta fraternity at Louisiana State University. During this event, pledges were forced to drink alcohol for incorrect answers to questions about the fraternity. This led to Gruver’s death from ethanol intoxication. His family settled his hazing lawsuit against LSU for $875,000 settlement. The case against the fraternity went to trial, leading to a $6.1 million payout.
  • $120,000 Settlement (Ohio 2021): The plaintiff was a freshman member of the football team at defendant University of Toledo. He suffered a closed head injury, resulting in a seizure, after he participated in a challenge to dunk a football over the goalpost on the university’s football field after a training session had ended for the day. The contest was referred to as the ‘O-line challenge’ and required players to jump off of the backs of other players who were positioned on their hands and knees in front of the goalpost.  The lawsuit claimed that the University violated Ohio’s anti-hazing statute, O.R.C. Sec. 2307.44 because it not have an anti-hazing policy that was actively enforced. They also claimed the University was negligent based on the conduct of their employees who permitted the players to participate in the contest and failed to ensure that student athletes were not injured, specifically by allowing practices to be conducted without equipment.
  • $82,000 Settlement (Alabama 2019): The plaintiff sued the Boy Scouts for injuries her son suffered during a hazing ritual performed by his fellow troop members. The older scouts in the troop used what they referred to as “Bear Calls” to conduct an initiation ritual known as “lumps and stripes” during which they physically assaulted, hazed, and bullied younger scouts. During this ritual, the other scouts struck belittled and threatened the plaintiff’s son, removed his clothing except for his underwear, tied him to a tree with rope, beat, taunted, and threatened him, and then abandoned him.
  • $70,000 Settlement (Oregon 2017): The plaintiff, a 41-year-old female, claimed that she suffered physical and emotional injuries as a result of hazing and bullying that she experienced while she was a member of the dance team at a high school operated by defendant Lake Oswego School District. The lawsuit accused the school district of violating Oregon law prohibiting hazing and bullying.
  • $1,000,000 Settlement (Florida 2015): A 26-year-old university student in the band at Florida A&M University. He was subjected to a hazing ritual in which he had to go from one end of the team bus to the other while teammates in the seats physically beat him. He suffered serious physical injuries during this hazing and later died. His family sued the university for wrongful death.
  • $3,000 Verdict (Kentucky 2012): This case involved three plaintiffs, female students who suffered blisters to their buttocks and emotional distress when they were subjected to hazing by the defendant sorority. The plaintiffs contended that the defendant was vicariously for the hazing committed by sorority members during ‘Hell‘ week. The defendant denied liability, contended that it had a strict no-hazing policy and that the plaintiffs themselves were complicit in the violation.
  • $25,000 Verdict (South Carolina 2010): A 30-year-old male employee at a night club died during a hazing ritual in which fellow employees at the club carried him outside and physically beat him until he lost consciousness. He sued the club claiming it was negligent in the hiring and supervision of its employees who subjected him to assault and battery and false imprisonment
  • $4,200,000 Settlement (Texas 2008): An 18-year-old freshman was a student at the University of Texas at Austin and a pledge of the Zeta Chapter of Lambda Phi Epsilon, a fraternity. He died of alcohol poisoning alleged as a result of a hazing ritual he was forced to endure in which pledges were given between four and eight bottles of liquor and coerced to finish the bottles. The lawsuit alleged that the activities were done in violation of the state anti-hazing statute.

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