Civil Liability for Bullying

For some, the adolescent years are fun and exciting, filled with new adventures and the start of lifelong friendships. For others, they are filled with torment. Bullying is not a new problem, but it has become increasingly serious. The internet and social media allow bullies to reach their targets 24/7, making it nearly impossible for the victims to escape. Our focus on school law has expanded to include this development and Attorney Greg Brod is proud to stand-up for victims as a San Francisco bullying lawyer. This is a fast-evolving area of law that continues to grow in importance with each story we hear of severe bullying, especially when those stories have ended with a victim turning to suicide to escape. We believe in civil liability for bullying, including claims against bullies and the adult/institutions that turn a blind eye to the cruelty.

The Story of a Child’s Torment
On September 9th, bullying claimed another young life. As detailed by ABC News, twelve year-old Rebecca Sedwick took her own life when she jumped from the tower of an abandoned concrete plant. It wasn’t her first suicide attempt; Rebecca cited bullying as the reason she cut her wrists back in December. A 14 year-old girl allegedly recruited Rebecca’s former best friend, also age 12, to help lead the torment which included intimidation, name-calling, and at least some physical violence. On at least one occasion, the older girl suggested Rebecca “drink bleach and die.” Online bullying involved as many as fifteen girls. The bullying continued even after Rebecca’s mother pulled her from the school. Reports suggest the bullying started over a boy.

Arrests Made in Bullying Case After A Final Online Message
Police recently arrested two primary bullies on stalking charges. According to Polk County Sherriff Grady Judd, the department’s decision to arrest the girls was hastened by a Facebook post made by the older girl in which she said she had indeed bullied Rebecca, Rebecca had committed suicide, and then commented: “IDGAF,” online jargon believed to mean “I don’t give a [expletive].” The 14 year old girl’s parents have suggested someone hacked their daughter’s account to make the post, but police don’t seem convinced. Sherriff Judd also noted the department is considering charges against the bullies’ parents. Other recent news articles have reported on the recent arrest of the stepmother of one of the alleged bullies on child abuse charges not directly tied to the Sedwick case (note: abused children often become abusers, so we purposefully avoid saying it is “unrelated”).

The Threat of Bullying and California Law
ABC references an AP study that found approximately a dozen suicides nationwide involving cyber-bullying since October 2010. Other groups say the real figure is at least double that guess. California law recognizes the dangers of bullying and cyber-bullying, particularly in the school setting (see Interagency School Safety Demonstration Act of 1985, revised to use the broad definition of bullying in the code section on conduct that justifies student expulsion.

Civil liability for bullying, including claims against bullies, parents, and schools, is a topic in flux. There have been successful lawsuits resulting in substantial verdicts and settlements in favor of bullying victims. Claims may be based on concepts like intentional infliction of emotional distress and wrongful death. While First Amendment issues have been a barrier in some jurisdictions, a California appeals court has said that cyber-bullying is not protected speech.

Protecting Bullying Victims in California
We are committed to helping this area of law evolve in a manner that protects victims. If your child has been the victim of severe and pervasive bullying, including victims who turned to suicide, please call our San Francisco school law attorney. Together, we can hold bullies and the people who turn a blind eye to the torment they cause, civilly liable for their acts. Money damages recovered in a civil suit cannot undo the torment or return a child lost to despair, but they can be helpful in covering a myriad of costs and the lawsuits send a message that bullying should not be dismissed as “kids being kids.”

See Related Blog Posts:
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Oakland School Threats Reminder of Need for Safe School Environments