Are Public Schools Liable for Damages Caused by Bullying?

By February 17, 2015Wrongful Death

Last month marked the one year anniversary of the suicide of Hailee Lamberth, a 13-year-old student of Clark County School District in Nevada. In a note, Ms. Lamberth explained that she took her life in order to escape the constant bullying she was experiencing in school.

This past October, her family filed a lawsuit against the school district alleging that the district was liable for her wrongful death because they did not inform her parents of the bullying. It is Nevada state law that school districts investigate every bullying report and inform parents of each incident. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, school records show that the school district was aware of the bullying, but never informed the parents—a clear violation of the law. It is still unclear how this case will be decided, as the trial has not even begun. These types of cases are becoming more and more common across the country as parents are trying to hold schools responsible for bullying and its effect on their children.

In the past, these cases have been decided differently based on the specific situations. In general, the courts have ruled that schools have a duty to supervise children and make sure they have a safe environment to learn; moreover, schools have a clear duty to prevent bullying when it qualifies as harassment based on gender, race, or disability. Still, cases are often decided differently based on the specific details regarding the bullying and the district’s policies. This is still a changing field of law, but there are a few questions that you can ask yourself if you are considering a lawsuit against a school district.

Was Your Child Injured?

As with any type of personal injury or negligence case, there must be some type of injury. Emotional distress is very difficult to prove and is often not a strong enough injury to carry a case. If your child suffered physical injuries from bullying, this would help you build a stronger case. Testimony from psychological experts and the costs of psychiatric treatment can also help establish that your child was injured.

Was the Bullying a Form of Gender, Racial, or Disability Discrimination?

Courts have been very clear about this; public schools have a duty to prevent these types of harassment. If your child was harassed because of these reasons, you may have a case.

Does the School or District Have an Anti-bullying Policy?

More and more schools are adopting comprehensive anti-bullying policies. These policies have already helped some schools prevail in bullying lawsuits by demonstrating how the school was exercising reasonable care to prevent bullying from happening.

Was the School Aware of the Bullying?

If you can show that the school was aware of the bullying, but did not try to stop it, you might be able to establish negligence. Talking to school teachers or checking student records can help you determine if the school had knowledge of what was going on.

If, after answering these questions, you still feel strongly about filing a claim, get in touch with a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. Our associates at Bighorn Law can help you analyze the situation and begin the process.

Bighorn Staff

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