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Jonathan Rosenfeld

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College students involved in fraternities and sororities often join to make friends, engage in community service, and enhance their higher education experience. However, prospective members of these groups may be forced to endure a painful initiation ritual that may result in serious injury or even death.

Dangerous hazing practices should never be seen as an acceptable element of Greek life. A Chicago hazing and bullying attorney from Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers can help you and your family get justice for physical and emotional injuries incurred by a painful hazing ritual, helping to make a change on college campuses for other initiates. 

What Is Hazing?

Under Illinois law 720 ILCS 5/12C-50, hazing is defined as causing bodily harm to any person during an unsanctioned activity related to induction into a group, organization, or society that is connected to the institution. 

The hazing statute explicitly links hazing cases to education, and it may take place at:

  • School
  • College
  • University
  • Trade school
  • Other educational institutions

  • Northwestern University found that 2 in 5 students were aware of hazing taking place on their campus [1]. 
  • Eastern Illinois University reports that 71% of students who are hazed suffer from emotional injuries, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), loss of trust with fraternity members or sorority members, and declines in grades [2]. 
  • 71% of hazing activities involved alcohol in some way [3]. 
  • In a 2018 survey of seven universities, 42.7% of athletes on sports teams had experienced some form of hazing, while 38.3% of fraternity and sorority members had experienced hazing [4]. 
  • While 55% of students surveyed identified hazing acts, only 5% recognized them as hazing events [5]. 

Universities in and around Chicago have been plagued by hazing, despite strict student conduct policies meant to prevent these acts. 

In November 2012, David Bogenberger died while pledging to Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity at Northern Illinois University. 

He and other new members were forced to consume dangerous amounts of alcoholic beverages. After forcing him to drink vodka to excess, he was placed in a bedroom to recover, where he fell unconscious and died from alcohol poisoning. An autopsy found that his blood alcohol level was five times above the legal limit [6]. 

In 2023, Northwestern athletes alleged that they were forced to engage in a hazing practice known as “running” if they did not perform adequately during a game. They would be restrained by 8-10 upperclassmen wearing masks in a dark locker room, then be subjected to sexual abuse, including dry humping [7]. 

The Sigma Chi Fraternity has been accused of hazing at two separate Illinois colleges, including widespread use of date rape drugs during their rush week at the University of Chicago [8]. The fraternity was also banned for three years at Illinois Wesleyan University for a hazing incident in 2021 [9]. 

Notable Hazing Incidents

Universities in and around Chicago have been plagued by hazing, despite strict student conduct policies meant to prevent these acts. 

In November 2012, David Bogenberger died while pledging to Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity at Northern Illinois University. 

He and other new members were forced to consume dangerous amounts of alcoholic beverages. After forcing him to drink vodka to excess, he was placed in a bedroom to recover, where he fell unconscious and died from alcohol poisoning. An autopsy found that his blood alcohol level was five times above the legal limit [6]. 

In 2023, Northwestern athletes alleged that they were forced to engage in a hazing practice known as “running” if they did not perform adequately during a game. They would be restrained by 8-10 upperclassmen wearing masks in a dark locker room, then be subjected to sexual abuse, including dry humping [7]. 

The Sigma Chi Fraternity has been accused of hazing at two separate Illinois colleges, including widespread use of date rape drugs during their rush week at the University of Chicago [8]. The fraternity was also banned for three years at Illinois Wesleyan University for a hazing incident in 2021 [9]. 

Is Hazing Illegal?

Hazing is illegal under Illinois law. The statute 720 ILCS 5/12C-50 prohibits any initiation ritual where the hazing results in physical harm to a person. It is defined as a Class A misdemeanor, but if it results in death or great bodily harm, it becomes a Class 4 felony. 

Some cases have been taken to federal court. Gruver et al. v. State of Louisiana confirmed that universities are responsible for taking disciplinary action under Title IX if they become aware of hazing incidents. 

The Stop Campus Hazing Act, introduced to the Senate in 2023, will also aim to reduce hazing deaths by forcing colleges to disclose hazing reports on campus every year. 

Common Types of Hazing

There are many forms of hazing practices, including the following:

  • Physical Abuse – Some hazing involves physical violence, such as hitting students with paddles, forcing them to engage in strenuous physical activity, or demanding that they drink alcohol to excess. Many hazing deaths involve alcohol abuse.
  • Emotional Abuse – Emotional torment is a common tactic, which can include humiliating the victim. Older members of the group may demand the initiate perform tests of obedience, often in degrading costumes or using foul substances like rotten eggs.
  • Sexual Abuse – Stripping initiates, forcing them to wear exposing outfits, or simulating sexual acts are all considered forms of sexual abuse. 

A hazing incident can leave college students with physical injuries and serious mental health struggles, which is why it is crucial to work with a Chicago hazing lawyer to seek justice for these injuries.

  • Physical Injuries – As a result of physical or sexual abuse, initiates may be left with broken bones, concussions, bruises, and lacerations. Severe alcohol intoxication can cause brain damage or even death. 
  • Emotional Distress – Hazing can cause severe psychological harm, including PTSD, sleeping disorders, anxiety, depression, and withdrawal from activities. Contrary to claims, hazing does not encourage group cohesion. It can actually lead to severe distrust, resentment, and fear amongst group members, sometimes even pushing students out of school entirely. 

What to Do If You Are a Victim of Hazing

If you have been subjected to hazing practices, it is important to act quickly in order to protect your legal rights. Follow these steps as soon as possible after a hazing event.

  • Seek Medical Attention – Hazing can result in serious injuries, such as broken bones or alcohol poisoning. Go to the hospital and get a full evaluation.
  • Document the Incident – Take pictures of the place where the hazing occurred and of your injuries. Gather up any communication that mentions the initiation rite and get the contact details of everyone who was present.
  • Report the Incident – Call the National Anti-Hazing Hotline at  (888) 668-4293. Your message will be saved as an audio file and sent to your school’s administration. Be sure to mention your school and the organization you were hazed by. 
  • Call a Lawyer – Hiring a Chicago hazing and bullying lawyer after an incident is crucial for protecting your rights and seeking justice. We have the expertise to navigate the legal complexities, gather essential evidence, and hold responsible parties accountable to help you secure compensation for medical expenses, emotional distress, and other damages.

How a Hazing Attorney From Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers Can Help

Our team assists with civil claims associated with hazing. We’ll help you with every step of the legal process. This includes:

  • Free Case Review – A hazing attorney from our team will determine whether you have a case and how much it may be worth.
  • Gathering Evidence – We’ll gather all materials related to the incident, such as phone records, photos, medical reports, and university records about the student organization.
  • Filing a Lawsuit – After we identify who can be held liable, we will file a lawsuit against them that will document the abuse and demand damages.
  • Negotiations – We attempt to settle out of court first, as this spares the victim the difficulties of trial. We may settle with the university itself or, when this is a local chapter of a Greek organization, with the organization.
  • Trial Representation – Sometimes it is not possible to settle with the organization. In this case, we will represent you in a court of law, protecting your legal rights and successfully arguing that you deserve compensation.

Hazing Allegations as the Basis of a Civil Lawsuit

While hazing is often prosecuted following criminal charges, it is also possible to pursue a civil suit against the liable parties. Several bases can be utilized, the most common being negligence or gross negligence. 

Negligence means that the person had a duty of care to the victim and failed to uphold this duty, which is called breach of duties. Negligence can include failing to supervise students, failing to enforce anti-hazing policies, failing to educate students on the possibility of hazing, or negligently admitting dangerous organizations into student life. 

Gross negligence goes above and beyond mere negligence and involves willful, reckless, or wanton conduct that imperils the life and property of another person. This would include wrongful death, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. 

You may receive a variety of damages to compensate you for dangerous or degrading acts. These are separated into economic, non-economic, and punitive damages.

Economic damages are for the financial expense of hazing, such as medical bills, lost wages, or property damage. Non-economic damages cover the emotional and social impact of alleged misconduct, such as pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment of life.

Finally, punitive damages are awarded by the courts in cases of gross negligence. These are meant to punish the defendant for their wrongful acts. 

Do I need to have physical injuries to file a hazing lawsuit?

No, you do not need to have physical injuries to file a hazing lawsuit. Besides any obvious consequences of physical abuse or sexual assault, hazing can also cause severe emotional and psychological trauma, which can be grounds for legal action. 

Can I file a lawsuit if I agreed to participate in the hazing?

Yes, you can file a lawsuit even if you agreed to participate in the hazing. Consent does not absolve those responsible from liability, especially if the hazing activities were illegal, dangerous, or caused harm. A hazing lawyer can help you navigate the legal complexities and hold the responsible parties accountable for their actions.

Liability in Hazing Lawsuits

A variety of parties can be held liable in these lawsuits, including:

  • Individual Perpetrators – Those who facilitated the abuse are the most likely liable parties.
  • Student Groups – The sorority, fraternity, athletic club, or recreational group should have protected students against these crimes.
  • Faculty Members – Coaches or faculty advisors for student groups must protect members of groups from abuse.
  • Universities – If a university was aware of the hazing and failed to intervene, the administration can be held liable.

What kind of compensation can I expect from a hazing lawsuit?

There is no agreed-upon compensation amount for any personal injury or civil suit, though Illinois does not impose a settlement cap. The hazing lawsuit settlement you receive depends on the extent of your injuries, the financial expenses incurred, and how long negotiations take. 

How long does a hazing lawsuit typically take?

A lawsuit may take anywhere from a few months to a few years, depending on the complexity and how clear-cut the liability is. In the Northwestern case, which happened in 2021, civil suits are still ongoing, which reflects how long such actions can take.

Why Choose Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers for Your Hazing Case

Jonathan Rosenfeld, Chicago Personal Injury Lawyer

Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers is a Super Lawyers firm with a 10 out of 10 rating on Justia and an A+ BBB rating. Our experienced team of attorneys has decades of experience in civil litigation. 

We take a client-centered approach and take the time to understand our clients on a personal level. We always seek to minimize the impact of the legal process on their lives and have recovered over $450 million in damages for our clients overall.

The Time Limit for Filing Hazing Lawsuits in Chicago, Illinois

A civil lawsuit for hazing in Illinois has a statute of limitations of two years, making it crucial that you act quickly to ensure we have time to file a lawsuit after negotiations.

Contact a Chicago Hazing and Bullying Lawyer Today!

Our firm has recovered millions for clients and works on a contingency fee basis, meaning that you owe us nothing unless we win your case. We’re a highly-rated law firm that fights hard to seek justice, and we’re ready to assist you in exploring your legal options. 

Schedule a free consultation and learn what legal actions you can take by calling us at (888) 424-5757 or filling out our online contact form

References: [1] Northwestern University, [2] Eastern Illinois University, [3] Hazing Prevention Network, [4] CNN, [5] Stop Hazing, [6] AP News, [7] Daily Northwestern, [8] Chicago Maroon, [9] WGN-9

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