Hazing has been around for thousands of years. It is what the members of the established group do to the prospective or new members of that group. Hazing has been done in the military, sports teams, employers, unions, police and fire departments, social organizations, scholastic organizations, and many more.
Hazing is considered by some as the Rite of Passage. The feeling is that the established group wants the new members to “pay their dues” for membership by being embarrassed, ridiculed, tested, hurt, and just anything to make it difficult to get in. The thought is that if it is difficult to get in, the new member will value the membership much more. Even little kids make hazing a part of membership in their little clubs and sometime catastrophic injury results. Also big tough men in major league sports do the same thing to rookies.
For example, years ago I had a case involving eight to ten year old kids that had their own club out in the middle of a lot behind a BBQ restaurant that had very high weeds. The clubhouse was nothing more than a small area in the middle where they had cut down some of the weeds. In order to be admitted to the club, the prospective new member had to be invited and then he had to walk through the coal ashes, with shoes on, where the BBQ restaurant dumped them on a daily basis. The problem was that there were sometimes very hot live coals in the pile beneath the harmless looking ashes. My little client received third degree burns to her feet through her shoes and had to have surgery.
Most of the dangerous hazing happens in colleges and universities. It has become an important part of joining a fraternity or sorority, in spite of the warnings and known dangers of hazing, which is illegal. The hazing may just involve ridiculing or embarrassing the pledge, but may also involve dangerous alcohol drinking games or “walks.” Many pledges have been killed from acute alcohol intoxication, due to active members making the pledges participate in the drinking games to be admitted to the fraternity or sorority. Consumption of a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time can cause death. There are a host of other hazing activities which can cause death or catastrophic injury.
If hazing causes death or catastrophic injury, the local fraternity should be liable. However, there is usually no insurance coverage for hazing or alcohol claims because they are excluded from the policy. When it is excluded, the hazing attorney must go after the local and national fraternity. The problem is that the local chapter usually has no funds or unencumbered assets. Also, the national chapter is usually responsible in its printed material and content on its website warning it members about the dangers of hazing. Therefore, the national chapter may not have any responsibility, although it may have substantial assets.
My settlement was much more than I expected. I was so happy with the result and with the way my case was handled all the way through. - Jolene Z.
What a hazing lawyer must do is make a claim for negligence on the homeowners policy of the parents of the actives involved in the hazing. That homeowner’s policy does not exclude claims involving hazing and alcohol. It is a general liability policy. The hazing lawyer should make a claim against every active involved in preparing for the hazing activity and participating in the hazing activity. He can also make a claim against the officers for not stopping the hazing and against other members that new the hazing was going to occur, but failed to inform the school. For example, if several actives are involved in planning the alcohol hazing, buying the alcohol and instructing the pledges to consume large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time, those are your most obvious defendants. If a death is involved, it is a felony criminal violation as well as a civil liability claim for money damages. However, police departments are not generally familiar with the hazing statute so they never present hazing cases to the District Attorney. Also, District Attorneys do not understand the hazing statute and are afraid that they cannot get a conviction. Therefore, they normally just slap the offenders on the wrist and charge them with a misdemeanor of “supplying alcohol to under aged person.”
The theories that the hazing lawyer should use in the claim are “negligent activity,” “negligent undertaking,” “assumption of duty of care,” and per se violation of the Texas Hazing statute. The hazing lawyer should not normally use “intentional conduct” because that is excluded from the homeowner policy, although it is included in the statute. Additionally, willing participation by the person being hazed is not a defense to liability under the statute.
The above theories should be used regardless of the type of hazing case it is. Also, the homeowner’s policy of the perpetrators should also be used. Even if the actives are living away from home going to college, they are still covered by their parents’ homeowner’s/renter’s policy. In addition, if the hazing is by employees of a company and the company has reason to know that the activity goes on by its employees and does not stop it, the company may be liable for death or catastrophic injury.
The normal homeowner or renter policy is usually $100,000, $300,000, $500,000, $1,000,000 or more. However, some of them start as low as $25,000. A homeowner or renter may also have an umbrella policy that has even more coverage. Care should be taken by the hazing lawyer to make sure that money is not being left “on the table” due to an umbrella policy or unencumbered assets. This can be done by using an Asset Search and an Affidavit of no assets and no other general liability policy.
CALL US NOW! If you or a loved one has suffered catastrophic injury or death from hazing of any type, call a lawyer experienced in that area of law. We will meet with you in person and answer all your questions. If you decide to hire us, there is no attorney fee or expenses unless we make a financial recovery for you. Please call NOW the Law Firm of Roger “Rocky” Walton, P.C. at 817-429-4299, located in south Arlington.