Hazing and Personal Injury: Do I Have a Claim?


Hazing recently populated news headlines in the Midwest following an incident involving five Wheaton College football players who were criminally charged in the hazing of a teammate. One of the players, of Columbus, Ohio, and four other players allegedly duct-taped their teammate and left him half-naked, beaten, and bound in a nearby baseball field. Each football player was charged with aggravated battery, mob action, and unlawful restraint, with the most serious charge carrying a maximum five-year prison term.

This incident, although it occurred in Illinois, raises many questions about hazing here in Ohio. What is hazing, and is it illegal? If someone is hazed in Ohio, what are his or her legal rights? Who is responsible for medical costs associated with personal injury?

In this post, we will discuss what constitutes hazing, as well as who is responsible for hazing-related injuries. We will also take a look at the criminal and civil statutes associated with hazing. Finally, we’ll examine why students haze and why hazing incidences often go unreported.

What is hazing?

Many say hazing is a rite of passage, a tradition, or all in good fun. But hazing is abusive, dangerous, and sometimes involves illegal conduct. Unfortunately, hazing is common on college campuses nationwide. More than half of college students involved in student organizations experience hazing, according to the advocacy group StopHazing. And it is not just Greek organizations. Hazing is also common among students involved in academic clubs, honor societies, and varsity sports — 3 in 5 students experience hazing on college campuses. Another 47% of students experience hazing before even leaving high school.

Hazing is considered anything that humiliates, degrades, abuses, or endangers someone trying to join or participate in a group, regardless of if they initially go along with the hazing. In many situations, alcohol is involved, along with sleep deprivations, isolation, or illicit sex acts.

Taken to the extreme, hazing rituals also may include beating, branding, and being forced to consume nonfood substances — all of which can lead to traumatic injuries.

Ohio Hazing Laws

Hazing is illegal in most states. Under Ohio Revised Code 2903.31, hazing is a fourth-degree misdemeanor with a definite jail term of not more than 30 days. The law states that hazing is doing any act, or coercing another person to do any act of initiation for admission to any organization that causes, or creates a substantial risk of causing, mental or physical harm to any person. Depending on the actions of the hazer, other serious criminal charges, such as battery, may also apply.

The courts have interpreted the act of hazing broadly. Hazing conduct that causes actual harm is a punishable offense, but the law also applies in situations where no one is hurt. Behavior that creates a probability of harm occurring is also considered hazing.

Moreover, hazing is a strict liability offense, meaning that any person who has hazed another will be punished under the law, regardless of whether or not they actually intended to haze.

Who is responsible for injuries caused by hazing?

Under Ohio Revised Code § 2307.44, which details hazing civil liability, any person who is the victim of hazing may sue for injuries or damages that result from hazing and may be able to seek compensation for mental and physical pain and suffering. The civil statute is broader than the criminal statute; not only are the individual actors responsible, but schools and the local and national branches of the student organization involved may also be liable.

If a victim of hazing sues for physical and mental pain, the responsible parties will have few defenses. Comparative negligence, assumption of risk, and consent are not defenses to a civil hazing claim. In other words, those responsible for the victim’s injuries cannot claim that the victim was equally as negligent, or that the victim assumed the risks of the activity and voluntarily endured the hazing. This is intended to protect victims of hazing who may have succumbed to strong influences of peer pressure.

A victim of hazing may have other rights under Ohio law depending on the conduct involved. In addition to suing responsible parties for mental and physical suffering, victims may have additional claims such as false imprisonment, assault, and negligence.

Why do students haze?

Considering the potentially serious consequences of hazing, both for the victim and the hazer, many wonder why students would continue to engage in the behavior.

The responses from witnesses and alumni in the Wheaton College example attempt to minimize the seriousness of hazing. Group members that participate in hazing often say that it was no big deal — that “no one got hurt” — or that it was their choice to participate in hazing activities. Normalization is another common response to hazing. Students who are members of groups that haze for initiation often state that the activities are tradition and that they have “always done it that way.” In many instances, hazing is often justified by the perception of group unity.

For these reasons, hazing largely goes unreported. It is rare for victims of hazing to report the activity to school officials or police. In fact, nearly 90% of students who have experienced hazing in college do not believe they were victims of hazing. Victims of hazing rationalize the conduct, saying the feeling of being part of a group outweighed any pain or stress they suffered.

Get Help if You or a Family Member have been Hazed

Unfortunately, it is not until someone is seriously injured — or worse, killed — as a result of hazing that the gravity of these abusive actions is fully felt. Those who hazed will face criminal prosecution and civil liability. For victims, there may remedy under Ohio law that will allow them to recover the costs incurred as a result of physical or mental injuries.

If you’ve been injured in a hazing activity, contact us today for a free case evaluation and consultation. We can help you understand your legal rights and options and how to reach the best outcome for you. When your injuries are the result of hazing, those responsible by law should compensate you for your expenses.

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