As a California hazing assault lawsuit attorney, I am glad that hazing, of all sorts, is rare, however, it still happens too often in our schools, universities and other institutional settings. Recent events show that assault and battery as a “rite of passage” is still taking place. What do the laws of the State of California provide with regard to victim’s rights in these cases?
Hazing Is Both Criminal Conduct and Can Result in Civil Liability for Money Damages Under California Law
California Penal Code 245.6 defines “hazing” as a crime in California and sets forth the legal definition as follows:
“‘Hazing’ means any method of initiation or pre-initiation into a student organization or student body, whether or not the organization or body is officially recognized by an educational institution, which is likely to cause serious bodily injury to any former, current, or prospective student of any school, community college, college, university, or other educational institution in this state. The term “hazing” does not include customary athletic events or school-sanctioned events.”
This statute was actually enacted in direct response to many incident but, specifically an incident at Chico State University where a student named Matthew Carrington, died as a result of a fraternity hazing incident. This was the impetus for the California legislature to formerly define frat hazing as a crime.
This same statute provides for a private right of action to file a civil suit for money damages on behalf of any hazing victim. Specifically, this portion of this Cal. statutory provision provides as follows:
“(e) The person against whom the hazing is directed may commence a civil action for injury or damages. The action may be brought against any participants in the hazing, or any organization to which the student is seeking membership whose agents, directors, trustees, managers, or officers authorized, requested, commanded, participated in, or ratified the hazing.”
What does this mean? It means that a victim of any type of hazing ritual that suffers bodily injury or emotional harm as a result of the ordeal may sue not only his tormentors but, also any organization who knew or should have known that this type of activity was taking place within their group. The term “ratified” is defined by CA law as either “express” or “implied” approval of the hazing activity. California Civil Jury Instruction 3710, further defines “ratification” and states that, “Approval can be shown through words, or it can be inferred from a person’s conduct.”
In the example of a college fraternity, this could mean that not only those members who participated in the acts could be held legally responsible but, also the local chapter leaders (president, vice-president, other officers, etc.) and the national chapter if they either condoned the conduct or failed to take action to prevent it. In the case of a school athletic institution, coaches and school administrators as well as the School District itself could be found liable to pay civil damages if they “approved” the events by word or deed and/or by action or failure to act.
In addition to this statutory cause of action for personal injury or wrongful death, the general so-called “common law” principles may also apply. This includes the tort laws related to negligence and assault and battery. California law defines “negligence” as the, “failure to use reasonable care to prevent harm to others.” (See Cal. Jury Instruction 401). The laws of the State of CA also define civil claims for assault and battery when a person is placed in fear for their safety or is the subject of bodily harm against the will or consent of the victim.
The need for consultation and retention of an experienced California civil assault and battery claims lawyer:
Being the victim of hazing including an assault, battery, sexual assault is probably one of the worst experiences a person could suffer as a human being. Oftentimes, the victim is brutalized or even killed due to forced alcohol consumption, beatings, deprivation of food or water or many other types of heinous conduct. It is not easy to come forward and seek legal redress for the physical injury and psychological harm that this causes. This is where a skilled and caring legal advocate can make all the difference. An experienced lawyer familiar with California’s prohibition on hazing and the rights of the victim can step in and conduct the proper investigation and prosecution of claims and ease the stress on the victim or their family. If you or someone you know has been the subject of physical or mental abuse due to hazing, call our toll free injury helpline at 866-966-5240 (statewide in California) or 310-433-2280 (anywhere in the Los Angeles area).