Fraternities and sororities, or what is collectively known as “Greek life,” offer college students in the United States several advantages in their post-secondary experiences, including the chance to make lifelong friendships and get involved in charitable work. At some colleges, joining a fraternity or sorority is often a great way to have a social life outside of classes.

However, there can be a dark side to Greek life. The initiation process for fraternities and sororities can be needlessly dangerous, putting pledges or potential members in unnecessary danger if the pledging process includes hazing.  Each year, a few students lose their lives on college campuses due to hazing, while other students have been seriously injured.

If your child has suffered a severe injury, or you believe you have a wrongful death case as a result of these illegal initiation practices, contact the Indianapolis personal injury lawyers at Wagner Reese.

What is Fraternity Hazing?

Pledges in various fraternities and sororities undergo different forms of hazing that are intended to help them bond with others in the same organization and test their dedication in the initiation process.

Popular culture often depicts Greek life initiation as including small pranks such as having to clean the fraternity or sorority house or memorize historical facts about the house. While such harmless pranks are not a problem (and are not technically considered hazing), some fraternities or sororities cross the line and engage in illegal hazing activities which put pledges at risk. According to the organization Stop Hazing, hazing can range from social isolation from other members to sleep deprivation, forced consumption of alcohol, physical beatings, and other forms of assault. Indiana law defines “hazing” as “forcing or requiring another person: (1) with or without the consent of the other person; and (2) as a condition of association with a group or organization; (3) to perform an act that creates a substantial risk of bodily injury.” See § 35-42-2-2.

Unfortunately, many fraternities and sororities still engage in hazing as part of their initiation “traditions”, and many students accept hazing as simply part of initiation process.  Colleges and universities have struggled over the years to control hazing-related incidents and deaths. Since 2000, there have been over 20 hazing-related deaths in the United States, with one college fraternity pledge reportedly dying from alcohol poisoning in 2021 as a result of hazing.

Due to the death rate associated with hazing, both state and federal governments have passed legislation to prohibit hazing on college campuses. In addition, steps have been taken by several Greek associations such as the North American Interfraternity Conference and the National Panhellenic Association to curb hazing by banning alcohol and supporting legislation to end hazing. Unfortunately, hazing still continues on some college campuses. 

Federal and Indiana Hazing Laws

Two U.S. senators proposed legislation called the End All Hazing Act, requiring schools and schools’ websites to report hazing incidents and their histories. This act developed in response to the 2017 hazing death of Max Gruver at Louisiana State University.

Under this federal law, hazing is defined as “menial labor, disparagement, public or private humiliation, and forced exercise,” as well as the use of drugs or alcohol in conjunction with those acts, according to the bill. Post-secondary institutions must report all hazing incidents, including incidents that endanger a student’s physical safety regardless of federal, state, or local violations under the bill.

Although hazing is illegal in 44 states, only 13 states have laws declaring it a felony if it causes death or serious injuries, including Indiana. In addition, most colleges have a student code of conduct that prohibits hazing. If a student is found to have broken the code, they could face discipline, including suspension and expulsion. Regardless of whether the perpetrators face criminal prosecution or school discipline, victims and their families have the right to seek compensation for their injuries and deaths in civil lawsuits.

Legal Options for Hazing Victims

Individuals, colleges, and fraternities/sororities may be held liable for hazing. With regard to individual students who engage in hazing activities, compensation is sometimes paid by the student’s parent’s homeowners insurance, even if the student lives at college.

If you or someone you know has been a victim of college hazing, it’s critical to understand your legal choices and the rights that injury victims have. Those who have been injured or whose loved ones died due to hazing should contact a personal injury/wrongful death lawyer to discuss their options for getting compensation and justice for what they’ve suffered.

Contact Wagner Reese for College Hazing Victims

We believe victims of fraternity hazing and their families who suffered severe injuries and deaths have the right to file for financial compensation. This topic is a sensitive one, but college students and their families need to understand their rights. They should feel safe at school and receive an education without the threat of intimidation or harassment.

A personal injury lawyer can provide you with valuable advice on what to do if you or your child suffered severe injuries or wrongful death due to hazing. Contact us today to schedule a free initial consultation about seeking compensation.