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How to Know You Have Been Hazed

The State of Pennsylvania defines hazing as: “Any action or situation which recklessly or intentionally endangers the mental or physical health or safety of a student or which willfully destroys or removes public or private property for the purpose of initiation or admission into or affiliation with…” The definition becomes even more complicated, so I will translate.

In plain English, hazing can be a wide variety of activities. It can even involve placing an individual in a potentially harmful situation even if no serious harm is intended. As part of many fraternal initiation rights, new members are doused in water, tied up, and placed in front of an air conditioner for a night. That is hazing, and whoever placed the new member in front of the A/C has not only committed a third-degree misdemeanor offense, that person is culpable for the consequences.

Hazing can either recklessly or intentionally endanger an individual. In the example above, the members may not have intended to give the guy double pneumonia but would still have been held responsible for damages caused by their actions.

Hazing is conducted as part of a group’s activities and can be required for admission. It is also performed regularly as a part of the initiation process. New members of sororities and fraternities will often subject their new members to endangering rites. A few of the more common examples:

  • Physical brutality – whipping, beating, branding,
  • Forced calisthenics
  • Forced consumption of food, liquor, drugs or other substances
  • Exposure to the elements
  • Activities that cause severe mental stress – Sleep deprivation, forced exclusion from social contact, conduct that can result in extreme embarrassment
  • Willful destruction or removal of private property

Hazing is typically seen as ‘normal,’ or for the good of the group. And 9 times out of 10, it might not even leave a scratch. But in practice, these activities all too often lead to irreparable physical, mental and emotional damage. That is why the state of Pennsylvania forces all institutions of higher learning to adopt a strict anti-hazing policy. And it is why anyone who has been hazed should report the activity – if not for a personal sense of justice, then at least for future members who could be harmed if the activity continues.

A Case of Hazing in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania

My client came forward like many who have suffered from hazing; he had a vague idea that he had been mistreated but did not know the extent of the harm, nor even that his suffering was the result of illegal activity.

The events leading to his physical injuries began when he entered Valley Forge Military Academy in fall, 2006. At first, it was name calling and light harassments. One of the adult officers even recommended that my client needed additional guidance and special attention. Regardless of whether this recommendation was intended to stoke the negative attention against my client, the suggestion was followed by increasingly bold and harmful activity.

The slander moved to direct insults. He was even told to kill himself. The hazing became physical. He was slapped. He was shot with a pellet gun. Then, on one spring day two of his classmates who were cadets came into his quarters, forced him into his dress uniform (including his ceremonial rifle). They bound his arms and legs with duct tape and then hung him on a door hook. He was left hanging and unable to move or escape.

Eventually, his uniform tore free, and he fell forward onto his rifle, losing several teeth and suffering facial lacerations. The fall knocked him out completely. His teeth were so severely damaged that it took over $5,000 in dental reconstruction before he looked like himself again.

He came into my office later that year courageously. It is not easy for an individual who has suffered from hazing to come forward. He/she has been taught within the closed group or institution that the practice is completely normal and even good for the group. But at heart, many who suffer severely from this ritualistic practice know they have been wronged.

Hazing does not help anyone involved – even the aggressors and institutions where the practice is commonplace. We took the case and immediately set about the task of assessing my client’s damages, as well as the institution’s responsibility in the matter.

Read my next post about Assessing Damages to see how we resolved the case in my client’s favor.

Assessing Damages in a Pennsylvania Hazing Case

How much should your attorney ask for in a hazing case? That depends on the damages you suffered.

Let’s take a case in which my client was recently awarded a substantial settlement.

My client was forcefully duct-taped and hung up on a door hook. When his clothing ripped, letting him fall to the ground, he damaged his teeth and suffered multiple facial lacerations.

When we filed the case with the Philadelphia court, we could easily prove the exact extent of the physical damages he sustained. The bills his family had gathered from the Emergency Room where he was initially sent were added to the costs for facial reconstruction, as well as follow-up psychiatry and psychotherapy. The total came to roughly $7,500 in medical bills. These physical damages were only a small part of our total claim.

My client had suffered emotional damages associated with the pain, suffering, embarrassment, and disfigurement resulting from the activities of his classmates. In order to claim emotional damages, we asked Dr. Susan Lipkins, who is a subject area expert on hazing, to assess our case. She determined that the events leading up to the incident with the door hook were acts of hazing. Furthermore, my client’s psychotherapist also reported he suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD).

In addition to physical and emotional damages, we also look for economic losses. In this case, my client did not complete his first year of college as a direct and inescapable result of his injuries. These added $30,000 to the total. But opportunity cost can in some cases reach much farther than any specific receipt or pricetag.

Hazing can cause significant emotional derailment, resulting in lost opportunities and underperformance. If you dropped out of school after an act of hazing, or could not find adequate employment, then hazing could be attributed as the primary cause.

If your institution was negligent in its duties to monitor student activities, as it was in my client’s case, then it is your right and obligation to sue the institution itself in order to reduce the likelihood that the same thing that happened to you will damage someone else. Read my next blog, “Proving Institutional Negligence in a Hazing Suit” to see when an institution is at fault.

Proving Institutional Negligence in a Hazing Case

Academic institutions, military establishments and any other environment where hazing occurs are almost never directly involved in hazing. These institutions have anti-hazing policies because Pennsylvania law requires them to do so. But the fact of the matter is that hazing is much more prevalent at some of these institutions than others. In practice, some institutions fall short of following through on their policies. This is an act of negligence.

Pennsylvania law provides that the organization can be held responsible for tortuous acts even when the acts in question are incidental to the organization’s operations. And if the organization is found responsible, then it is responsible for any damages suffered by the plaintiff.

That is to say, proving institutional negligence is a matter of connecting the dots from the crime to the lack of institutional oversight.

Here’s how we do it.

4 Steps to an Airtight Case for Institutional Negligence

I recently took the plaintiff’s side of a case against Valley Forge Military Academy. The case was presented to the academy instead of the perpetrators of the actual hazing. We had a strong case against the academy.

In academic legalese, this segment of the law accesses negligence theory with intentional torts. First, you prove the organization’s duty to protect its members from hazing by keeping a watchful eye over its members. Valley Forge Military Academy has its own anti-hazing policy, so this was our proof of duty. Next, we prove a breach in the policy, which allowed the hazing to occur.

Valley Forge had little supervision over its cadets. We had testimonies in support of this fact, taken from the cadets who performed the actual hazing. The academy also did not provide clear ways for students to report hazing, nor did it inform the students about the dangers of hazing.

We argued that the lack of supervision was a breach of the anti-hazing policy. The third bulletpoint of our case was connecting this breach to my client’s injuries.

In this case we were able to point to a history of hazing at the academy. Valley Forge has been involved in at least 4 different hazing lawsuits in the last 20 years. One of the cadets who performed the hazing on my client also revealed in his testimony that the same thing had been done to him, though without leading to severe injury. But our main argument was that the lack of proper supervision enabled the hazing to occur repeatedly until the final incident seriously injured my client. We successfully settled the case for $80,000 in remuneration.

Hazing Is Increasingly Considered a Punishable Offense in Philadelphia, PA

Hazing has been an aspect of high school, college and military academies for centuries. But as hazing has become increasingly severe in recent years, more and more cases are being brought to court attention.

Some examples:

Earlier this year two young women at Penn State pled guilty to assault and harassment charges. A third was convicted of summary harassment.

Around the same time a hazing probe into a high school baseball team led the head coach to step down. A player had been restrained and bitten by teammates, allegedly.

Meanwhile the Philadelphia Inquirer has taken aim at the University of Pennsylvania by reporting the disturbing trend: “fraternities compete for mates with harsher hazing…”

But whereas institutions have been remarkably quiet and inactive in enforcing anti-hazing policies historically, the increasing attention has caused more real action. Last year the student government was found to be in violation of the school’s no-hazing policy by an internal investigation. The investigation was spurred by a guest posting in the school newspaper.

After the conclusion of the investigation led to the finding of a breach in school policy, the school’s executive director of the Office of Student Affairs pointed out to the Daily Pennsylvanian: “Hazing is inconsistent with the goals and purposes of the University and, in accordance with state law, is explicitly forbidden.”

The number of court cases and probes in the last year marks the beginning of a statewide effort to reduce hazing practices – possibly. But in order to be successful, the real effort needs to trickle down to the students. That is, students need to support peers who report hazing at their institutions. And students who suffer from hazing activities need to have the courage to come forward, if not for themselves, then for the countless other lives who will be damaged if hazing continues to silently damage the lives of countless students.

My office recently helped a client bring Valley Forge Military Academy to justice, and my client was compensated for his medical expenses, tuition, as well as psychological damages resulting from being hazed. So we know what hazing can do, and we would be happy to listen to your case. If you believe you or someone you know might be the victim of hazing, please contact The Law Offices of Thomas More Holland today by filling out a simple form, or by calling (215) 592-8080.

The Myth of the 90-Day Rule

By Daniel J. Siegel, Esquire

(c) 2009 Daniel J. Siegel – All Rights Reserved

NO REPRINTS PERMITTED WITHOUT THE WRITTEN PERMISSION OF THE AUTHOR

The constant mantra that injured workers must treat with a “company doctor” for 90 days is a myth, albeit one that many attorneys who represent injured workers erroneously accept as gospel. Consider this description of the “90-Day Rule” from the website of a Pennsylvania law firm that represents injured workers:

In seeking medical treatment for your work-related injury, you must find out if your employer has posted a list of physicians or health care providers in your work place. If the employer has done this, then you are required to visit one of them for initial treatment. You are to continue treatment with that provider or another on the list for a period of 90 days following the first visit. If your employer’s health care provider prescribes invasive surgery, you are entitled to a second opinion which will be paid for by your employer/insurer. Treatment recommended as a result of the second opinion must be provided by a list provider for 90 days. After the 90 days in cases where there is no list of providers, you may treat with any provider you like. You are required to notify your employer of the provider you have selected.

If this explanation sounds accurate, then you too have fallen victim to the myth of the “90-Day Rule.” In fact, the requirement that an injured worker must treat with a designated physician rarely applies. Treatment with a “company doctor” is governed by Section 306(f.1)(1)(i) of the Workers’ Compensation Act, which states:

Provided an employer establishes a list of at least six designated health care providers, no more than four of whom may be a coordinated care organization and no fewer than three of whom shall be physicians, the employe shall be required to visit one of the physicians or other health care providers so designated and shall continue to visit the same or another designated physician or health care provider for a period of ninety (90) days from the date of the first visit: Provided, however, That the employer shall not include on the list a physician or other health care provider who is employed, owned or controlled by the employer or the employer’s insurer unless employment, ownership or control is disclosed on the list. . . . Should the employe not comply with the foregoing, the employer will be relieved from liability for the payment for the services rendered during such applicable period. It shall be the duty of the employer to provide a clearly written notification of the employe’s rights and duties under this section to the employe. The employer shall further ensure that the employe has been informed and that he understands these rights and duties. This duty shall be evidenced only by the employe’s written acknowledgment of having been informed and having understood his rights and duties. Any failure of the employer to provide and evidence such notification shall relieve the employe from any notification duty owed, notwithstanding any provision of this act to the contrary, and the employer shall remain liable for all rendered treatment.Subsequent treatment may be provided by any health care provider of the employe’s own choice. (emphasis supplied)

This section of the act is not a carte-blanche license requiring all injured employees to treat only with “company doctors” for 90 days. Rather, before any injured worker must treat with any employer-designated medical provider, the Act requires the employer “to provide a clearly written notification” of the employe’s rights and duties to the employee, and to obtain a “written acknowledgment” by the employee that he or she has been advised of the requirement. Verbal notice alone is inadequate. In fact, the Bureau has created a form, “Notice: Medical Treatment for Your Work Injury or Occupational Illness,” available for download athttp://www.dli.state.pa.us/landi/lib/landi/bwc/med_treatment.pdf, in order for employers to comply with these provisions.

Because most employers do not elect to comply with this section of the Act, most injured workers do not have to treat with the so-called company doctor following a work injury. Despite this, many employers and insurance companies routinely tell injured employees that they must go to a particular doctor or clinic, or the insurance company will not pay for their medical care. These statements are actually misrepresentations of the Workers’ Compensation Act, which never gives an employer or insurance company the right to (1) mandate that an injured worker treat with only one provider, or (2) “pre-deny” payment for care under most circumstances. Sadly, based upon the “90-Day Rule,” many doctors also refuse to treat injured workers for 90 days after their injuries because they have heard or been told that they will not be paid for any care they provide because of “90-Day Rule.”

If employers choose to provide the notice, they must do so in writing, and in accordance with 34 Pa. Code 127.755(c)’s requirement that “The written notice to an employee of the employee’s rights and duties under this section shall be provided at the time the employee is hired and immediately after the injury, or as soon thereafter as possible under the circumstances of the injury.”

Providing only the written notice, however, is not even enough; employers must do more. They cannot, for example, tell employees that they can treat with only one particular doctor, nor can they require that an employee treat with only one multi-purpose facility, such as a hospital’s workers’ compensation clinic. In fact, 34 Pa. Code 127.751(c) specifies that “The employer may not require treatment with any one specific provider on the list, nor may the employer restrict the employe from switching from one designated provider to another designated provider.”

The regulations, largely ignored by employers and insurers as they apply to the “90-Day Rule,” go further. 34 Pa. Code 127.751(f) confirms that “If an employer chooses not to establish a list of designated providers, the employe shall have the right to seek medical treatment from any provider from the time of the initial visit.” Assuming, however, that proper notice is given to an employee, then the employer’s list of physicians must also comply with 34 Pa. Code 127.752, which states:

(a) If an employer establishes a list of designated health care providers, there shall be at least six providers on the list. (1) At least three of the providers on the list shall be physicians. (2) No more than four of the providers on the list may be CCOs.

(b) The employer shall include the names, addresses, telephone numbers and areas of medical specialties of the designated providers on the list.

(c) The employer shall include on the list only providers who are geographically accessible and whose specialties are appropriate based on the anticipated work-related medical problems of the employes.

(d) If the employer lists a CCO, as an option on the list of designated providers, the employer may not individually list any provider participating in that CCO, under circumstances when those individually listed providers are bound by the terms of the CCO for the treatment rendered to the injured workers.

(e) The employer may change the designated providers on a list. However, changes to the list may not affect the options available to an employe who has already commenced the 90-day treatment period.

Only when an employer complies with all of the regulations must an employee treat with one or more of the six designated “company doctors” for the first 90 days after the first visit to the doctor – not 90 days after the date of injury and not 90 days from some other date relevant to the claim. The “90-Day Rule” calendar begins on the date of the first visit to one of the designated medical providers on the six-doctor list.

Employers have the right to make certain that their injured workers get care with doctors that the employers know and trust. But before doing so, employers (and insurers) must comply with the Workers’ Compensation Act and the applicable regulations in the Pennsylvania Code. If not, the employers and insurers have no one to blame but themselves when their workers go elsewhere for care.

Reprinted from PaTLA News, Vol. XX, No. 4, September 2006

NO REPRINTS PERMITTED WITHOUT THE WRITTEN PERMISSION OF THE AUTHOR

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