Florida’s Hazing Laws
Hazing: is it a good-natured welcome to newcomers, or a dangerous form of bullying?
The Law on Hazing
From a legal standpoint, hazing is “any action or situation that recklessly or intentionally endangers the mental or physical health or safety of a student for purposes of …initiation or admission into or affiliation with any organization…”
The law goes on to list specific actions that would be considered hazing. In sum, it includes anything that could cause extreme embarrassment, mental stress, or physical harm. And guess what? The mindset of the hazer plays virtually no role in determining whether or not the behavior is actionable. What matters is the victim’s perception of the events and the outcomes.
Hazing Does Occur in Florida
Consider recent examples of hazing that occurred in Florida:
Cooper City High School baseball players were accused of sodomy in an alleged hazing incident in the spring of 2016. Although the victim claims to have reported the incident to a coach, it was ignored until the victim and his mother notified the Broward County Sheriff’s office.
Paddling pledges was part of a system of hazing that occurred in two fraternities at the University of Florida in 2012. Allegations were leveled against members of Kappa Alpha Psi and Alpha Phi Alpha, revealing the practice during secret pledge initiations.
Drum major Robert Champion died in 2011 due to injuries endured while being hazed by Florida A&M band members.
Chad Meredith, a student at the University of Miami, became drunk with two Kappa Sigma officers. He later drowned while attempting to swim across a nearby lake. Although officers of the fraternity claimed it was not part of a fraternity-sanctioned hazing, the fact that Meredith wanted to join the fraternity was one of several facts that that led a jury to determine that it was, indeed, negligent hazing, and the family was awarded $12.6 million in damages.
Consequences for Hazing
Florida’s Chad Meredith Act criminalizes hazing at the high school and college levels. Participating in hazing, regardless of your intent, can land you with a third degree felony charge, or a first-degree misdemeanor. A finding of guilt may result in jail-time and monetary damages.
Additional consequences from a post-secondary institution may include fines, the temporary withholding of a diploma, and suspension or dismissal.
Exceptions to the Law?
Some individuals erroneously believe that if the victim consented to the activity, it is not really hazing. They might think that if membership is not contingent participation, or if the activity occurred outside of a scripted, sanctioned plan, it is not actionable. But none of these assumptions prove correct under Florida law. Hazing is hazing, and it is a criminal act.
When Hazing Occurs
Have you suffered personal injury due to hazing in a Florida high school, college or university? If so, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries. Don’t suffer the humiliation, mental or physical stress without fighting back. The experienced team at the Law Offices of Robert W. Elton have your back. Contact us immediately for a confidential consultation.