Bullying in Schools is a Widespread Problem
As dedicated anti-bullying attorneys, we stick up for the rights of children who are bullied at school when teachers, administrators, and others turn a blind eye. Bullying is a serious problem that should not be tolerated. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) defines bullying as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance” and “is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.” Bullying only recently began to gain attention through organized campaigns. Most schools now provide education about bullying and offer students strategies to prevent bullying. Many schools have also adopted “zero tolerance” for bullying, which often requires that some form of action be taken when bullying occurs. Despite these efforts, bullying still continues to be a serious problem. Statistics from HHS show 28% of U.S. students in grades 6–12 experienced bullying.
Bullying Causes Real Harm
Bullying can cause serious and long-term harm. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), bullying can result in physical injury, social and emotional distress, and even death. The CDC also reports victimized youth are at increased risk for mental health problems such as depression and anxiety, psychosomatic complaints such as headaches, and poor school adjustment. Given the gravity of bullying’s consequences, parents of bullying victims are often left to wonder whether there are legal consequences in cases where bullying results in serious injury or death.
Liability of Those Who Bully
The liability of those who bully is often predicated upon whether the actions taken were done intentionally to inflict emotional distress (in cases that do not involve a physical assault). Comments and actions that may be hurtful and cause pain may not rise to this level of liability unless it can be shown that those who took such action deliberately intended to inflict emotional distress upon the victim. In a case of bullying, we will want to know more about the actions that took place in order to determine whether this level of intent existed by the person or persons responsible for the bullying.
Are School Districts Liable for Bullying?
Courts areincreasingly holding school districts liable for bullying that takes place under their watch. School districts and officials may be held legally liable for failing to respond appropriately to student-on-student bullying, typically on a theory of negligence. More specifically, school districts will usually be found to have a legal duty to keep students safe at school, by ensuring that students are free from harassment and physical harm. Federal Title IX regulations (discussed below) also require schools to maintain safety and freedom from harassment. If the district (through school administrators and teachers) knew (or should have known) that bullying was taking place but in fact did nothing to prevent the bullying, they may be liable for the consequences and injury that results.
What Compensation is Available for the Victims of Bullying?
Victims and their families may receive compensatory damages for physical injuries, post-traumatic stress, general emotional distress, pain and suffering, andwrongful death. In extreme cases, punitive damages may be awarded to deter future misconduct.
Bullying, the Federal Law and Holding Schools Responsible for Bullying
Several Federal laws against discrimination may be used in cases of bullying motivated by race, color, national origin, sex, and/or disability. The following Federal statutes could potentially provide a legal remedy to bullying aimed at specific groups:
- Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (discrimination based on race, color, or national origin);
- Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (discrimination based on sex);
- Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (discrimination based on disability); and
- Title II of the Americans with Disability Act of 1990 (discrimination based on disability).
Courts may find that school districts violated the civil rights of a bullied student based on race, color, national origin, sex, or disability “if sufficiently serious that it creates a hostile environment and such harassment is encouraged, not adequately addressed, or ignored by school employees.” Bullying based on race, color, national origin, sex, disability, or religion may also be addressed under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This Federal law allows individuals to sue government or public entities for violations of their constitutional rights. For example bullying based on race or religion may be viewed as violating equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause or Due Process Clause.
How Our Firm Help Those Who Have Been Subject to Bullying
If you or your son or daughter has been the victim of bullying, please call us. No child should be subject to bullying, or be in fear of going to school. We typically represent clients on a contingency fee basis and seek for them a recovery of an amount equal to all damages which they sustained. In the case of school bullying, we will seek compensation from teachers, administrators, school districts, and anyone else who we believe, based on our investigation, may bear legal liability. Those who permit bullying must learn that their inaction and indifference will not be ignored. Because our representation is on a contingency fee basis (unless otherwise agreed), there is no fee to us throughout the duration of your case. We are only entitled to a fee if we are successful in recovering compensation. Call us to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation so that we can learn about your case.