In most injury cases that involve hazing, liability is placed on the fraternity and/or its individual members that participated in the hazing practice, rather than the college or university where the injury occurred. Over the last decade, rising injuries caused by college binge drinking and fraternity hazing practices have lead to an increasing number of lawsuits. College fraternities have paid significant civil damages for hazing injuries and deaths.
College Hazing Practices
In the past, colleges and universities have successfully avoided liability for fraternity-related injuries based on the “no duty” rule, which states that the relationship between a college and a student is solely educational. The “no duty” rule states that the college or university has no obligation or duty to govern a student’s behavior.
During the 1980s and 1990s, increased publicity of fraternity-related hazing injuries and deaths put fraternity behavior in the spotlight. This lead to a number of lawsuits and large verdicts for injured parties, but liability for injuries was placed on fraternities and individual fraternity members responsible for personal injuries. Courts have been hesitant to extend liabilities to colleges and universities. However, lawsuits against fraternities have resulted in large awards paid to injured victims by multiple parties including the local chapter, the college, the national chapter, and the fraternity members responsible for the hazing.
It is difficult to prove in court that a college or university breached its duty. Even if a duty is found, a plaintiff must prove that the institution’s breach of duty caused the injury. Courts usually conclude that although the institution may have a responsibility to regulate the conduct of the fraternity, it is not required to monitor the behavior of individual students. Because of court decisions, 43 states excluding Alaska, Hawaii, Montana, Michigan, New Mexico, South Dakota, and Wyoming have enacted statutes that outlaw hazing practices. Most state statutes define hazing as any activity that endangers the physical health of a student, but some states have also included mental health.
In Florida and New Hampshire, hazing laws are aggressive, stating that colleges and universities may also be charged with a misdemeanor if they knowingly condone hazing practices or negligently fail to prevent them. Statutes in Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee require all institutions to adopt a written anti-hazing policy. In Illinois, as well as Idaho, Missouri, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin, hazing that results in “great bodily harm or death” is a felony offense.