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D.C. Lawyer Devotes Practice to Hazing Victims
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By Guest Author Dave Lukow

Doug Fierberg isn’t looking for accolades.

  
What
Where


An attorney with Bode & Grenier, LLP, a prominent Washington, D.C. law firm, Fierberg has been lead counsel for several victims of hazing, sexual assault and other violence associated with school or institutional settings. His website – www.hazinglaw.com – is dedicated to the legalities connected with hazing and the injury and death it causes.

Despite the nature of his work, the graduate of George Washington University National Law Center rejects the notion he’s part of a crusade.

“I’m a lawyer trying to do the best job for his clients,” says Fierberg. “I don’t consider myself anything more than that.”

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Fierberg became involved with hazing after being approached regarding a proposed settlement.

“Back in the early 1990s, I was contacted by the family of a young man that was brutally hazed at the University of Maryland,” says Fierberg. “Another attorney was representing them at the time. They were being offered a settlement, which I didn’t think was adequate.”



The family’s quest for a second opinion proved beneficial.

“They ended up firing the other attorney,” says Fierberg. “And I was able to get a sizable judgment for them. The insurance company was offering $5,000. The judgment was for $375,000.”

Since that initial encounter, Fierberg has formed opinions on why hazing persists.

“Old traditions die hard – that’s the best answer I can give,” he says. “Many organizations have traditions, which they’re not quick to change. In the case of fraternities, specifically, I also think there’s a fundamental lack of supervision from the national organizations. This results in the inmates, the fraternity chapters, running the asylum. The people most likely to be hazed are those seeking to become new members of a fraternity.”

Unlike other places hazing occurs, in athletics and academics, for example, fraternities provide an environment where the practice flourishes unchecked.

“With respect to sports teams and universities, there is usually a responsible adult present,” says Fierberg. “How many times do sports teams meet without a coach being there? Fraternities meet without supervision – and on residential property off of the campus – where they’re exempt from it.”

The absence of authority can have disastrous consequences.

“Fraternity hazing, by far, results in greater incidence of catastrophic injury,” says Fierberg. “That’s due to the lack of mature supervision.”

Providing more oversight will help, but it’s not the only answer.

“I think hazing has got to be dealt with in a number of ways,” says Fierberg. “First and foremost, organizations seeking new members have to stop their own problem. Lawsuits aren’t responsible for stopping hazing.”

Raising awareness is essential.

“Is the impact of hazing underestimated? In some respects, yes,” says Fierberg, who is a former president of the National Crime Victim Bar Association. “I don’t believe the public yet has significant information about the extent of the problem. The nature of the criminal misconduct is kept secret.”

While Fierberg won’t estimate regarding the percentage of hazing incidents that go unreported, he does think only the worst situations are addressed.

“I don’t know the numbers, but more people are hazed than come forward,” he says. “When they do come forward, it’s because of a terrible injury or death.”

Founder of the litigation group, Schools: Violence, Misconduct, and Safety, Fierberg was unsure regarding whether the problem has worsened since he handled his first case.

“It’s hard for me to comment on that, because I’m not a sociologist,” he says. “It was deadly then – and it’s still deadly. I think that’s the best way for me to put it.”

Either way, the numbers are alarming. According to hazingprevention.org, 55 percent of college students involved in clubs, teams and organizations are hazed. Additionally, 1.5 million high school students endure hazing every year. Regardless of educational level, the mistreatment takes many forms, including the forced consumption of alcohol, humiliation, sleep deprivation and sexual acts.

Despite the associated activities, Fierberg believes the public and those it elects remain on the sidelines.

“I don’t think it’s particularly high on anybody’s agenda,” says Fierberg. “And if it is, they don’t have the information necessary to make the right types of changes.”

With inadequate attention being paid to the problem, Fierberg remains at the front, waging war on a shadowy institution and those keeping it alive.  The battle, though, can only do so much.

“I don’t know about closure,” says Fierberg, who did his undergraduate work at the University of Michigan. “With closure, few people know what it really means. For parents whose children have died as a result of hazing, I could never say the resolution of litigation gives them closure. They have to live with the pain from that loss for the rest of their lives. They can learn to live with it, but it never goes away. No amount of money can close that wound.”



 

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