Parents Test Liability of School in Bullying and Suicide Case

Schoolyard bullying has always been a part of growing up, and, until very recently, bullying was an issue that was mainly handled between the bully and the victim and their parents. However, in recent years, schools have taken a much more active role in preventing bullying amid a tragic wave of child and teen suicides that many see as a result of extreme, long-term bullying. This institutional concern about the effects of bullying has even made its way into the highest echelons of political life in the United States, as First Lady Melania Trump stated that her primary goal for her office would be to combat cyber bullying. There has also been a wave of parents seeking liability against their children’s schools for the harmful effects of bullying.

That is precisely what the parents of an eight-year-old boy who committed suicide by hanging himself from his bunk bed with a necktie are trying against his school. The wrongful death lawsuit filed by the parents of Gabriel Taye against Cincinnati Public Schools and school officials alleges repeated examples of Gabriel and other children being bullied at his elementary school. The parents contend that school officials knew about the bullying but were “deliberately indifferent” and allowed a “treacherous school environment.”

There is some legal precedent supporting the Tayes. According to the Supreme Court, “knowledge of harassment” and “failure to do something about it” are two elements that can expose a school to liability in bullying cases. However, the deliberate indifference standard set out by the Supreme Court is a very high bar for plaintiffs seeking liability against their children’s schools for bullying. It requires only that school administrators respond to known peer harassment in a manner that is “not clearly unreasonable in light of the known circumstances.” Thus, in order for liability to attach, the Tayes will have to show that Cincinnati Public Schools and school officials responded to their son’s bullying in a manner that was clearly unreasonable. One way that they could do this would be to show that the school district knew of the bullying, but took no action at all to stop it—a course of action that is arguably unreasonable.

Although there is some legal precedent for holding schools responsible for injuries caused by bullying, the courts are generally still reluctant to increase the demands on school officials to handle bullying. The Supreme Court has urged lower courts against second-guessing school administrators’ disciplinary decisions, allowing them the flexibility they need when dealing with children who are still learning how to get along with others. All of this may change, though, as these types of lawsuits and increasing public awareness of the dangers of bullying become more widespread. Most of the plaintiffs in such cases have said that their primary motivation for going to court is the hope that it will bring changes that will protect other students from bullying.

Contact an Atlanta Personal Injury Attorney for a Free Case Evaluation
If your child has suffered an injury because of bullying at school, you may be entitled to compensation if the bullying was part of an established pattern that the school chose to ignore.  Contact the attorneys at Slappey & Sadd for a free consultation to discuss your case by calling 404.255.6677. We serve the entire state of Georgia, including the following locations: Atlanta, Roswell, and Sandy Springs.

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