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.