Being a school-aged child is hard – and it’s even harder for children who are victims of bullying. Now, the term “bullying” means something different in every state. In general, it refers to physical, mental, or verbal acts that harm another person. These acts can be devastating for young children in school with developing minds.
But what happens if a child commits suicide by bullying?
Can parents sue for bullying and pursue compensation from the school?
The short answer is yes. Parents can certainly sue the district if their child’s suicide was a result of bullying at school.
A bullying lawsuit can hold school officials responsible for failing to provide a safe environment for students. However, the process is not always clear. In this post, we discuss the effects of bullying and what parents can do if bullying results in suicide. Let’s discuss.
The Consequences of Bullying
There’s no denying that bullying has always been a problem in schools. Most people have witnessed, been a victim, or even regrettably taken part in bullying when they were young. The effects of bullying can be extremely damaging to a child.
Bullying can lead to many issues within the victim, including (but not limited to):
- Academic decline
- Emotional distress
- Physical injuries
- Self-destructive cycles
All of these problems can attribute to suicide by bullying.
In May of 2022, bullying at the Latin School of Chicago led to a 15-year-old Jewish boy committing suicide. The victim dealt with consistent bullying from other students and a failure on the school’s part to report the complaints.
The Latin School of Chicago is renowned for its diversity and public pledges to end hate speech. Given the circumstances of the suicide, the parents of the victim are pursuing a $100 million bullying lawsuit.
Stories like this are becoming more commonplace across America. It’s important that parents understand the options they have in seeking justice.
What Does Bullying Look Like Today?
Bullying can take many forms, and it has evolved throughout the digital revolution. Here are the main types of bullying we see nowadays.
Physical bullying involves acts like hitting, kicking, tripping, shoving, or damage of property. These acts usually involve a power imbalance in which the victim is defenseless. The bully is typically bigger, stronger, and more aggressive. Most instances of physical bullying are repetitive or habitual.
Teasing refers to verbal abuse used to make fun of the victim. This type of harassment is usually carried out with an aggressive tone in repetitive instances. The bully may refuse to stop when the victim becomes upset – or even increase their verbal onslaught.
Cyberbullying is a relatively new type of bullying we’ve seen emerge in the last 10-20 years – due to advances in electronic communication. Unlike other types of bullying, cyberbullying can happen 24/7 via text, email, social media, and so on.
This type of bullying is extremely insidious. Aggressive comments, images, or other content posted online can be viewed publically, which can enable bullies to work together and increase the damage exponentially.
Lawsuits Against School Districts: What Are Your Options?
While parents can sue the school for wrongful death after a suicide by bullying, there are several factors to be aware of. The criteria will depend on the nature of the bullying, the identity of the victim, and the at-fault party.
The United States has both federal and state discrimination and harassment laws in place for bullying lawsuits, including:
- Title II of the Americans the Disabilities Act of 1990 – barring discrimination based on disabilities.
- Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 – barring discrimination based on sex.
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, barring discrimination based on color, national origin, or race.
If a student was subjected to a hostile environment within the school per these laws, the school may be guilty of civil rights violations.
Now, parents may also sue a school district after a suicide by bullying under common-law tort. Common-law tort provides an avenue to file a bullying lawsuit if the victim is not a member of a legally protected class.
The standard under federal civil rights statutes may hold schools accountable under “deliberate indifference” to harassment/discrimination. For other cases, proving mere negligence by the school may be enough to warrant a case under common law.
The grounds for a bullying lawsuit may include:
- Failure of the school district to properly supervise.
- Negligent infliction of physical/emotional distress.
- Intentional infliction of physical/emotional distress.
Steps Involved in Lawsuits Against Schools
Lawsuits against schools can get complicated. These suits are intended to hold schools accountable for student-on-student bullying – and earning maximum compensation requires a professional approach. The procedural requirements have several moving parts, including:
Understanding How the State Defines Bullying
The state laws around suing a public entity must be thoroughly understood before filing a bullying lawsuit or wrongful death case. For starters, you’ll need to understand the state’s definition of “bullying”. In Illinois, bullying and cyberbullying encompasses any severe or pervasive conduct and acts (physical or verbal) directed toward a student which can:
- Place the student in reasonable fear of harm to themselves or of their property;
- Cause a significant effect on the student’s physical or mental health;
- Significantly interfere with the student’s academic performance; or
- Significantly impede the student’s ability to participate in activities, services, or privileges provided by the school.
Bullying can take many forms, including (but not limited to):
- Physical violence
- Sexual violence
- Public humiliation
- Destruction of property
When suing a school – or any public entity – there must be a notice. In most cases, schools can only be held liable for the bullying of their students if they were provided proper notice of it. Attributing liability would be based on the school’s failure to effectively intervene, stop, or prevent the bullying. Without a formal notice, the district will claim a lack of awareness.
Selecting the Proper Forum and Law
Unless the bullying criteria fall under the federal laws mentioned above, the “failure to supervise” claim might be the ideal option. In the event of suicide by bullying, this would be the grounds for a wrongful death claim.
Suing a public entity for wrongful death is not an easy process. Most school districts have defense teams on retainer to avoid liability for such cases. You’ll need to work with an experienced wrongful death attorney to seek justice.
The Next Move
Bullying can cause suicide – we’ve all seen it in the news. A child’s suicide is truly a parent’s worst nightmare. If bullying at school was the result of your child’s death, you have options to seek justice. Schools have a responsibility to keep students safe. A suicide by bullying is a clear failure to do this.
At Midwest Injury Lawyers, we specialize in wrongful death lawsuits. If you have any questions about bullying laws in Illinois, we’re happy to answer them. Call our experts at 312-786-5881, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or request a consultation online.