College Hazing Again Rears Its Ugly Head

It seems that there are certain topics that keep rearing their ugly head when it comes to injuries in Maryland. You’d think that after awhile, lessons would be learned. But in the case of college hazing, it appears that learning not to beat, maim and injure fraternity pledges is more difficult than anything being taught in the classroom.

New Hazing Lawsuit Filed

A $3 million lawsuit has been filed against Bowie State University by a fraternity pledge, claiming that he was beaten and hazed while pledging. He has also sued the fraternity itself. The lawsuit alleges that the student was punched, slapped and paddled during fraternity events, both by current students and fraternity members, as well as non-student members of the organization.

Photos produced by the student show brutal bruises to the student’s buttocks. The student alleges in the suit that he was beaten at information sessions when he did not recite correct information that he was expected to learn to join the group.

To cover up their deeds, the fraternity allegedly ordered the student not to “snitch,” and allegedly went so far as to threaten the student’s mother.

Anti-Hazing Laws are Clear But Weak

Maryland’s anti-hazing law is simple and clear cut: It is illegal to intentionally subject a student to bodily harm for the purpose of initiation into a student organization. To avoid coercion and peer pressure, the consent or implied consent of the person injured is not a defense. Obviously, these laws supplement other criminal laws, such as battery and assault, which would also be applicable to hazing situations.

Although hazing is a crime, the hazing statute unfortunately does not carry a very severe penalty–imprisonment of less than 6 months, and a possible $500 fine. Some Maryland lawmakers have pushed for an increased financial penalty, up to $5,000, to bring Maryland more in line with other states. Sadly, fraternity and sorority PACS have often lobbied against increased hazing penalties.

But the lenient hazing laws don’t affect or limit a victim’s right to sue for civil damages in court. Civil lawsuits are often needed to properly and fully obtain redress for severe hazing. Those civil lawsuits often target not just the organization, but the universities where the hazing occurs. This can be particularly true where non-students, who are not subject to university codes of conduct, and may be complete trespassers, are involved in the hazing incidents.

Universities will often react by suspending organizations that haze. But while that’s admirable, it doesn’t insulate a university from liability for student hazing.

More difficult questions arise when hazing occurs off-campus. The law is not as clear as to whether a university is liable for off-campus hazing that is performed by university chartered and recognized groups. In many cases, discovery must be conducted in court as to whether a university knew a group hazes, and what measures it has taken in the past to expel or suspend a student or group known to haze.

If you’ve suffered an injury of any severity in Maryland, and you think it may be due to the negligence or intentional act of another, you want an attorney who can identify all liable parties. Contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today for a free consultation to discuss your rights.