School bullying is not new, of course, but social media has allowed bullies to take their tormenting to a new level, often making it impossible for their victims to escape, even in the privacy of their own homes.
Cyberbullying can become so intense that victims often suffer from severe anxiety and depression. Tragically, some victims end up taking their own lives. The family of a teen suicide victim in California has filed a wrongful death suit against the child’s school district after she was tormented for months by a group of students.
The parents allege that the school district knew about the bullying but did nothing to protect their daughter. The outcome of this case is uncertain, but it raises the issue of third party liability for the actions of minors, and the duty owed to children by the adults in charge of their care.
Proof Needed For Wrongful Death Cases
The tort of wrongful death requires proof of several elements. There must be a duty owed to the victim and that duty must have been breached, either by an intentional or negligent act. Finally, the breach of duty must have caused the death of the victim.
How do those elements apply to cyberbullying and suicide? In North Carolina, parents are not automatically responsible for the actions of their children, but a parent may be found responsible for the actions of a child if the parent had the opportunity to control their child’s actions, and if the parent knew of the necessity for such control.
Parents certainly have some opportunity to control their children’s use of the internet, but may not know that their children are involved in cyberbullying. If it can be proven that a parent knew that their child was involved in cyberbullying and did nothing to stop it, a case could be made against the parent.
There has been enough publicity in recent months about the effects of cyberbullying on victims that parents may be expected to know the possible consequences, including possible suicide, of continued bullying by their children.
The Role of Teachers and School Administrators
Teachers and school administrators, of course, owe a duty to keep children safe while the children are under their care. Keeping children safe includes protecting them from not only physical harm, but from harassment and bullying by other students.
In order to show that a teacher or school official breached that duty, it is necessary to prove that they knew or should have known that the bullying was happening and did nothing to stop it. A teacher may be made aware of cyberbullying if students are openly sharing social media posts while teachers are present, or if the bullying takes place on school-sponsored social media platforms.
Suing a school district is more complicated than suing a private individual as sovereign immunity laws protect public officials from lawsuits in many cases.
Contact an Attorney
Whenever a child is injured at school, whether by another student, a teacher or in an accident, a North Carolina personal injury attorney can advise the child’s guardian about the possibility of suing the responsible parties. An attorney can also advise you of your rights if your child has been the victim of cyberbullying. Call us at 704-326-7243 for a free consultation.