Maryland lawmakers have followed the lead of many other states in implementing guidelines that pertain to bullying. Studies have shown that victims of bullying often experience declines in their mental and physical health as well as in their studies. It is estimated that 75% of the time that children are bullied at school there is no intervention by an adult. Roughly 25% of U.S. teens report that they have been “cyberbullied.” Many of the actions that are associated with bullying are fundamentally similar to elements that comprise a tort claim.
Wrongful Death Claims
One extreme example where bullying and civil actions cross paths are in wrongful death cases where children have committed suicide and their family's attribute it to bullying. More parents have sought justice through the legal system in recent years in these instances with varying success. The basis is that tort allows for a legal solution for those harmed by the actions of others.
Maryland Civil Suit Involving a School
The mother of a student recently brought a lawsuit against the Prince George County Public School System after her child was bullied and assaulted on a school bus. Apparently, one student attacked the other and a group of children added encouragement and were recording the incident on their mobile phones.
The bus driver did stop the bus at one point to quell the situation; however, a report was never made to the school or to local authorities. Prior to the beating, the victim's mother had made a report to the school's administration after the bullying continued to escalate. A jury ultimately returned a verdict on behalf of the plaintiff and awarded approximately $100,000 in damages.
Case in Tennessee
A court in Tennessee recently affirmed a prior lower court ruling that awarded a victim $300,000. The case was filed against the school system citing negligence after a child was injured after being hit in the eye by another classmate. The teacher had left the classroom and the students remained unsupervised. The court ruled the school was negligent by failing to adhere to school policies and in supervision.
School District Negligence
Civil claims that accuse school districts of negligence are likely to encounter some challenges. In cases of bullying among students, the school district is essentially alleged to have demonstrated some indirect liability. The term indirect applies in comparison to an instance where the named defendant was the actual bully or their responsible party. Schools generally have a duty to maintain safety and enforce reasonable conduct. Many states allow for claims against school districts when they involve negligent supervision that creates an unreasonably dangerous environment.
Overcoming Sovereign Immunity
Another likely hurdle that a plaintiff may encounter is the concept of sovereign immunity that shields governmental entities from most civil liability. It has long been accepted that federal, state, and local public entities are protected unless certain rare circumstances exist. The idea of civil liability for bullying is a somewhat new concept that has developed as states have implemented formal anti-bullying provisions. It will be interesting to see how courts respond to these actions as they become more prevalent.