Torts: Louisiana Enacts Stricter Hazing Penalties

Hazing is a critical issue at colleges and universities around the country. The high-profile death of Louisiana State University student, Max Gruver, brought the issue to the forefront of LSU student life. The incident also sparked a national debate over whether existing laws were stringent enough to deter future events. Gruver’s death triggered change as well: Louisiana will now join eleven other states in making hazing a felony when it ends in death or serious injury.

During September of 2017, Max Gruver was found unresponsive on a couch after a night of heavy drinking at an on-campus fraternity house. At the time of his death, Gruver had an alcohol level of .495 percent. The coroner concluded that Gruver died of acute alcohol poisoning and aspiration. Shortly following Gruver’s death, LSU announced that it had rescinded the fraternity’s registration. Criminal charges are pending against certain individuals allegedly involved in this incident. Very often, such incidents lead to civil litigation as well. See, e.g., Morrison v. Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, et al., 31-805 (La. App. 2 Cir. 9/24/99), 738 So. 2d 1105 (where a hazing incident lead to an allocation of fault to the university and an involved tortfeasor).

Under the hazing laws in effect at the time, violators could be fined not less than ten dollars nor more than one hundred dollars, or imprisoned for not less than ten days nor more than thirty days, or both, in addition to being expelled from the institution. La. R.S. 17:1801. After Gruver’s death, many argued that the penalty did not fit the alleged crime.

The parents of Gruver became the vocal advocates for change. Following the death, the Gruvers persuaded Louisiana lawmakers to enact stricter hazing laws. House Bill 78 and House Bill 793 were introduced. In May of 2018, the Louisiana legislature passed the two proposals which make hazing that results in death a felony. The new laws also levy fines on organizations that knowingly allow hazing to occur. In addition, fraternities will also be bound to report hazing to the school. On May 31st, Governor John Bel Edwards signed both proposals, converting House Bill 78 into Act. No. 635 and House Bill 793 into Act. No. 640.

Act. No. 635 becomes effective on August 1st, 2018. Known as “The Max Gruver Act,” it amends current law and creates the crime of “criminal hazing.” The consequences of hazing will now include a fine up to one thousand dollars, imprisonment for up to six months, or both. If the hazing results in serious bodily harm or death or involves forced alcohol consumption that results in the victim having a blood alcohol concentration of at least .25 percent, the perpetrator may be fined up to ten thousand dollars and imprisoned up to five years. Organizations that knowingly allow hazing could also face a fine up to ten thousand dollars and be barred from operation.

Additionally, Act No. 640 will require Louisiana colleges and universities to provide education to new students about the dangers of hazing. The hope is that the new law and related measures will prevent future incidents. As the Governor stated, “Certainly, today does not mark the finish line.  This is not mission accomplished. This is a good start to what is going to be an ongoing process. But I am confident that we are making good progress, and it’s up to us to do everything in our power to ensure that students who attend Louisiana schools are in fact safe from harm.”

 

Tori Bowling is a partner with Keogh Cox. She works toward efficient, cost-effective resolution strategies, whether in or out of the courtroom. When she’s not in the office or in a courtroom, she can be found with her husband and two kids at ballfields, ballet recitals, or her local church.