With the start of a new school year right around the corner, many nervous parents and their excited college-bound children are making final preparations for the exciting new adventure of college life. Many parents will try to run through checklists with their teenager. “You need to do your laundry. Do you know how to do laundry? Do not forget to take your medicine. This is the number for the campus doctor.” Most of us will also caution our children on the dangers of alcohol and drugs.
As we caution them about these dangers, we also often encourage our children to join a fraternity or sorority. The benefits of Greek life are numerous including networking opportunities, philanthropy, community service, social development, and leadership skills. However, one critical concern that can be overlooked is the prevalence of hazing and the potentially catastrophic consequences. When we encourage our children to join a Greek organization, we could be unknowingly placing our children in danger.
In the fall of 2012, a Northern Illinois University 19 year-old student, David Bogenberger, made the decision to rush a fraternity. This decision tragically led to his death. During a fraternity rush event, pledges were required to drink vodka following a series of questions. Fraternity members organizing the event designed personalized vomit buckets for pledges and obtained breathalyzers to check alcohol levels. The fraternity members planned and prepared to require its pledges to consume dangerous amounts of alcohol. Tragically, David Bogenberger died that night. His blood alcohol level was .43%.
His heartbroken family filed a civil lawsuit and the case that followed, Bogenberger v. Pi Kappa Alpha Alpha Corp, went to the Illinois Supreme Court. The case established for the first time a cause of action in negligence for Greek hazing victims. The court allowed a civil damages action against the local fraternity chapter, its officers, members as well as sorority members that were involved. In August of 2018, a $14 million settlement was reached. The court’s landmark decision reflects a changing legal landscape imposing liability against the Greek fraternity and members. Before Bogenberger, the long standing rule was that no liability existed for the sale or gift of alcoholic beverages except for the Dram Shop Act and statutory prohibitions against minors consuming alcohol. The Bogenberger case appears to directly tackle the rise in hazing incidents and adds further protection for students.
What is Hazing?
When discussing hazing with your child, it is important to define hazing. So what exactly is hazing? In Illinois, hazing is defined as :
knowingly requiring the performance of any act that is not sanctioned by a student for the purpose of admission into a group that results in bodily harm. 720 ILCS 5/12C-50.
Hazing can take on many forms but each can lead to tragic consequences.
Is Hazing Illegal in Illinois?
You should ask your children if hazing is illegal in Illinois. The answer is yes, hazing is illegal in Illinois and it is a Class A misdemeanor and a Class 4 felony in cases resulting in death or great bodily harm. In fact, most college handbooks specifically address hazing.
Parents should research their student’s school policy on hazing. Most colleges have a very clear policy against hazing. For example, the following links are for a handful of Illinois colleges and resources.
How Common Is Hazing in Illinois?
It is estimated that at least 50% of college students involved in on-campus Greek life experience some form of hazing or know someone that has been hazed. The exact number of how many people are hazed each year is difficult to ascertain, as the majority of hazing goes unreported. The severity of the hazing in Illinois ranges from some mild discomfort to death.
In addition to David Bogenberger, other people have died in Illinois from hazing. In 1980, Nick Haben died from alcohol poisoning after participating in a drinking game required to play with the lacrosse club at Western Illinois University. In 1970, Donna Bedlinger died from head trauma after being left in the woods with other sorority pledges of Alpha Gamma Delta at Eastern Illinois University. Cases of hazing deaths in the state of Illinois go back as far as the late 1890s.
Types of Hazing
Not all hazing looks the same. There are different types of hazing that pledges can be exposed to, ranging from silent games to physical abuse. Some forms of hazing include:
- Verbal abuse
- Intentional sleep deprivation
- Forced cooking or cleaning services for other members
- Engaging in illegal activity
- Sexual exploitation
- Animal abuse
- Physical abuse
- Coerced eating
- Exposure to dangerous weather conditions
While hiring a personal injury attorney may not be necessary for name-calling or periods of silence, it is a must for more serious injuries, such as burns, kidnapping, bondage, and any situation that presents a physical danger.
Next Steps for Parents and Greek Hazing Victims
For parents and victims of hazing, the Bogenberger case now clearly creates a right of action against the Greek organization and its members. It is also a painful reminder of the difficult circumstances young students eager to gain acceptance may be put in. The better we equip our students to identify hazing, understand the legal ramifications, report hazing, and disengage in hazing activities, the better chance we have to prevent needless tragedies. If you or someone you know has been a victim of hazing, please contact our office to discuss you the specifics of your case. A civil lawsuit to recover monetary damages can be appropriate. Our consultations are always free, so don’t hesitate to call our office on 312-223-1700 for a free confidential consultation if you have questions about a potential hazing incident.