A University of Pittsburgh student won the right to sue the fraternity’s chapter advisor after the student suffered renal failure, seizures, and hypertension requiring three weeks of hospitalization and kidney dialysis due to injuries caused by protracted “paddling” during his fraternity initiation.
The Pennsylvania Superior Court held that while a national fraternity and its regional officers weren’t liable to the student, the individual assigned by the national fraternity as the chapter advisor was responsible to see that the national fraternity’s policies against hazing were enforced locally. Given the tragic history of death and serious injuries following fraternity initiation, the court found that national fraternities, local chapters, and any individual involved in fraternity administration are all potentially liable to injured students.
However, to prevail on a claim against all defendants, an injured student must be able to show actual knowledge or actual failure to act on the part of each defendant. Because the injured student in the case before the court proved that the local advisor had not exercised sufficient supervision and control over the local chapter, the court permitted the student’s claims against the local advisor to go to trial. All claims raised by the student against the national chapter and regional administrators were dismissed because the student could not prove any knowledge or failure to act on the part of those defendants.
Hazing and abusive initiation practices aren’t limited to fraternities–they are encountered by students in sports, at camps, and in high schools. Groups, schools, coaches, administrators, and fraternities not only are legally required to issue policies banning hazing but are also responsible to take affirmative steps to prevent hazing. Individuals and groups found to be aware of hazing can be held legally responsible to those injured by this illegal practice.