July, 2014 July 2014 - TMHLAW
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Parents’ Guide to Hazing – How to Keep Your Children Safe

Hazing is a widespread activity, affecting almost half of high school students and more than half of all college students.

Over 90 recorded deaths have been attributed to hazing. Countless others have been substantially harmed. Clearly, most cases of hazing do not lead to permanent injury, but you want to take certain precautionary measures.

TIP #1 Know your institution

Hazing is a cultural rite, meaning that it occurs repeatedly and in the same groups. That is not to say an institution or group is incapable of stopping, but institutions that have been brought to court repeatedly for hazing suits are fairly likely to suffer from the practice.

It is easy to do a bit of homework on any institutions your child is considering for the next step of their education. Do a quick Google search, inputting “hazing” and the name of the school in question. I did this for Penn State as an example. You might also search Google News for published articles on court cases or reported conduct. For every single case that is written about, there are likely many more.

TIP #2 Understand the Code of Silence

Hazing is usually conducted under terms of absolute secrecy. The word only gets out when someone suffers extreme consequences, such as death or permanent disfigurement. But mental and emotional symptoms can go unnoticed and unreported.

According to hazing expert, psychologist Dr. Susan Lipkins, pressure is often placed on new members to keep quiet. She calls this unwritten agreement the code of silence: “…the power behind the code of silence is based on fear, and this fear makes us not want to break the silence… Sometimes the fear is real and intimidation and threats are used. Sometimes the fear is implied, such as the fear of retribution or social isolation.”

If you find a few cases of hazing at your child’s institution, then you are in a better position to communicate some of the real dangers of hazing to your child. In the end, you might select the school anyway, but you can arm your child with awareness and understanding of how dangerous the practice really is.

TIP #3 How can I tell if my child was hazed?

Dr. Lipkins, who provided her expert opinion for my client wrote an outline on some of the things she normally looks for when treating her patients.

  • Physical effects – broken bones, burns; drug/alcohol overdose, any condition requiring surgery
  • Psychological symptoms – depression, anxiety, panic attacks, phobias, sleep disturbance, decreased concentration, decreased achievement, impaired social relationships, lack of trust, and post-traumatic stress disorder

In her evaluation of my client, Dr. Lipkins concluded post-traumatic stress disorder was caused by hazing. My client was awarded reimbursement for medical expenses, tuition, and psychological damages without even seeing a courtroom.

Thinking Outside the Box to Protect Injured Workers

Pennsylvania, like every other state, requires employers to purchase workers’ compensation insurance to pay for wage losses and medical care for employees who suffer on-the-job injuries. Unfortunately, some employers ignore the law.

The Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act was amended a few years ago – creating the Uninsured Employer Guaranty Fund (UEGF) – to provide benefits for employees whose bosses failed to buy workers’ compensation insurance. But dealing with the UEGF is difficult, because it seems to do everything possible to prevent claimants from obtaining the benefits they are entitled to.

There are other ways to get benefits, although it has been used relatively infrequently over the years. For example, an injured worker can file a lawsuit directly against the uninsured employer and try to recover through the courts rather than through the Workers’ Compensation system. The problems with simply suing an employer are that (1) it can take a long time until you win and get a judgment, (2) employers that don’t have workers’ comp insurance generally don’t have a lot of assets (money) to go after, and (3) the process can be expensive. Because of those drawbacks, many lawyers who handle comp cases won’t represent workers whose employers are uninsured.

There is another method that we have used. While it still is a battle, it can be a lot faster. The faster the process moves, the sooner the injured worker can get a judgment against the employer. A judgment, really a lien, may well prevent the employer from borrowing money or handling various other financial transactions until it is resolved. In other words, the quicker you get the lien, the better the chance of getting money to compensate the injured worker.

Our method is based upon Section 428 of the Workers’ Compensation Act, which permits an injured worker to file a judgment against an uninsured employer by filing a certified copy of a Claim Petition in any Court of Common Pleas. In other words, to obtain a lien or judgment, the worker must file a Claim Petition (the basic petition that begins the administrative process of obtaining benefits under Pennsylvania’s Workers’ Compensation Act).

But even better is how the law is written, which can streamline the process and give clients the best leverage against their employers.

The process under Section 428 of the Act is simple. Section 428 of the Act requires that:

  1. The injured worker must file a Claim Petition against the uninsured employer;
  2. The injured worker must obtain a certified copy of the Claim Petition;
  3. The certified copy of the Claim Petition must be filed with the prothonotary of the court of common pleas of any county;
  4. The prothonotary of the court of common pleas of any county must enter the amount claimed in the Claim Petition as a judgment against the employer;
  5. Because the amount claimed is for total and permanent disability, the judgment must be for $30,000.00.
  6. This process is quick and easy, but most lawyers who represent injured workers either don’t know that it exists or choose not to use it.

We consider this provision another way to help our clients be fully compensated for their injuries. After all, the employer didn’t do what it was supposed to. We try to level that playing field.

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