Hazing is often seen as a right of passage for social groups, athletic teams, and in the military. New pledges or younger members of the group are required to go through initiation rituals as part of their acceptance into a fraternity, sorority, sports team, or other organization. While it can sometimes be good-natured and in fun, many times the requirements expose members to dangers that lead to physical injury, emotional harm, and even death.
In Michigan, there are serious criminal and civil ramifications for persons and groups that are involved in hazing activities. Perpetrators of harmful hazing can face jail time and stiff penalties and organizations can be sued for compensation in a civil lawsuit. Our experienced personal injury lawyers are ready to help you pursue your legal rights.
Types of Hazing
There are generally three different groups that categorize hazing activities. These are:
Subtle Hazing, which are essentially harmless activities that emphasize the imbalance of power or seniority between existing members and new members. They can be activities that ridicule or embarrass the new members, but are mostly in good fun. Examples could include name-calling or requiring members to take quizzes and tests on trivial information.
Harassment Hazing, which required new members to do things that cause physical stress or mental anguish in order to feel like they belong to the group. This might involve requiring a member to wear humiliating clothes or demand that a freshman football player to carry the equipment bags of more senior teammates.
Violent Hazing, which are activities that can cause physical and psychological harm to the member. Examples of violent hazing include the following:
- Physical trauma, like beating, paddling, branding or other assaults
- Forced coercion of alcohol or drug consumption, especially when demands are excessive and involve minors
- Exposure to harsh weather elements without proper clothing or protection
- Excess water drinking
- Kidnapping or abduction
- Public nudity
- Forced criminal or illegal activities
Is Hazing a Crime in Michigan?
The State of Michigan has laws that make certain types of hazing a crime. The specific statute that makes hazing illegal is MCL 750.411t. The law applies to a fraternity, sorority, association, company, social group, athletic teams, and students at educational institutions.
The law defines “hazing” as an intentional, knowing, or reckless act by a person acting alone or acting with others that is directed against an individual and that the person knew or should have known endangers the physical health or safety of the individual, and that is done for the purpose of pledging, being initiated into, affiliating with, participating in, holding office in, or maintaining membership in any organization.
Prohibited activities under the statute include any form of physical brutality; excessive activities or those that jeopardize the physical or safety of the participant; requiring consumption of food, liquid, alcohol or drugs, and any illegal or criminal activities.
The criminal penalties for anyone who violates this statute include both misdemeanor and felony offenses. Offenders can be subject to incarceration ranging from 93 days to 15 years in prison. Fines and penalties up to $10,000 can also be imposed depending on the severity of the hazing.
Civil Lawsuits for Hazing Activities
Victims of hazing activities have the legal right to file a civil lawsuit against the individuals, organizations, and institutions that have involvement with or sponsor the group or team.
Universities, colleges, and fraternal organizations have their own policies that strictly prohibit restrictions activities. These can result in severe penalties to both the groups and their members. On extreme occasions, a fraternity may be shut down completely and the senior members may be expelled from school. In recent years, the University of Michigan has taking severe actions against Greek organizations, including removing a fraternity for violent physical hazing.
In addition to these actions, a victim can sue the organization for harm caused by the hazing. Several years ago, the Michigan State Marching Band got in trouble for hazing new band members. In fact, a lawsuit was filed by band member who was required to perform bizarre hazing rituals that were sexual in nature, including public nudity and masturbation.
Other notable cases have been filed around the United States against fraternities for deaths caused by excessive drinking of pledges. A federal lawsuit was filed against Penn State University after a pledge died as a result of his fraternity brothers forcing him to drink to excess. Due to his intoxication, he fell down the stairs and suffered fatal injuries. The other members did not summon medical help and left him there to suffer until it was too late to help.
Recoverable Damages in a Hazing Lawsuit
Hazing lawsuits have the same types of recoverable damages as in any personal injury case. These include both economic losses (medical bills, lost income, and others) and non-economic losses. Non-economic losses include pain and suffering, fright and shock, embarrassment and humiliation, and psychological and emotional damages.
In the event of a tragic death, the surviving family members can file a Michigan wrongful death lawsuit. These cases demand compensation for the pain and suffering of the decedent before death, the loss of companionship of the family members, and economic damages as well.
There is no limit to the amount of a settlement payout in a hazing lawsuit. Most Greek organizations, universities, high schools, sports teams, and other groups have insurance policies with high limits to pay significant settlements to a victim. If there are multiple victims from the same event, most insurance policies provide coverage for each person.
Is Consent to Hazing a Legal Defense?
In general, a participant’s consent to hazing is not a valid defense in either a criminal or civil lawsuit. While consent can be a defense to many alleged criminal activities, it is not to the offense of hazing. In a civil lawsuit, a defendant can argue that the participant agreed to the activity but this type of defense would likely be prohibited by the trial judge.
Get Help from Our Michigan Hazing Lawsuit Lawyers
If you or someone that you care about suffered physical or psychological injuries due to hazing, we can help. Our attorneys will investigate your case and file a lawsuit demanding compensation for the harm caused by this unlawful activity.
Like all civil lawsuits, there are strict time limitations for filing a case. In Michigan, you must generally file a lawsuit within three years of the date of the event. As such, you should contact our experienced attorneys today to start your case.
We do not charge any legal fees unless you receive a settlement check and we only get paid at the end of a successful case. It costs nothing to get started so call us now!
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