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One in four students in the United States are bullied on a regular basis. Is your child a victim of bullying? Has your child suffered severe physical injuries or mental anguish as a result of being bullied in school?
Personal injury cases are brought against schools because they fail to protect their students when they know that bullying is a problem. In these cases, a lawsuit is not so much about punishing a school district, but more about making sure that the school takes your child's safety as seriously as possible. When schools know there is an issue with bullying but they do not do anything about it, they are liable for any injuries suffered by your child.
Physical Bullying: A Serious Problem
Recent studies have shown that physical bullying is a serious issue, which affects not only the bully and the victim, but also other students who witness the bullying. Some of the negative physical interactions that can occur include physical fights causing serious injuries and even sexual abuse or sexual assault. For acts to be considered physical bullying the following elements are typically present:
- The same victim is repeatedly targeted.
- The bully or bullies intend to hurt, embarrass or intimidate the victim.
- The actions occur in a situation where the bully is more powerful than the bullied. For example, he or she may be older, stronger or have a higher social standing. Ethnicity also plays a role in many bullying cases.
Physical bullying can take many forms including but not limited to hitting, shoving, pushing, tripping, slapping, spitting and stealing or destroying possessions such as books, clothing or money. In some cases, physical bullying may also cross the line into sexual harassment or sexual assault. Serious personal injuries sustained in bullying incidents include traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord trauma, broken bones and internal organ damage.
When Should You Be Worried?
As a parent or caregiver, it is important to watch for signs of physical bullying. Here are a few red flags you can watch out for:
- Coming home from school with unexplained injuries such as cuts, bruises or burns
- Having damaged clothing or possessions
- Skipping school or skipping certain classes
- Mood swings including anger or sadness
- Withdrawing from others
- Fear of going to school
- Suicidal thoughts or actions
What Can You Do as a Parent?
There are a number of active steps you can take as a parent or guardian to intervene and resolve the situation. First and foremost, talk with your child each day and get him or her to open up to you. Contact your child's teacher or principal and discuss the incidents involving bullying. If necessary, put in writing the date, details and nature of the incident. Keep a detailed record of what happened in each instance. Talk to potential witnesses. See if someone recorded the incident on a cell phone. Speak to the school's guidance counselor or a teacher who is trained to deal with bullying.
Take a look at the school's policies and code of conduct to make sure that the school's administration is taking the necessary steps to prevent acts of violence. If the school or school district does not work with you toward a reasonable solution, contact an experienced attorney who can help you pursue an injury claim against the school and school district.
What Schools and School Districts are Required to Do
California has some of the strongest anti-bullying laws in the nation. Seth's Law strengthens existing anti-bullying laws to help protect all California public school students by requiring schools to update their anti-bullying policies and programs. Named after a 13-year-old California student who tragically took his own life in 2010 after years of anti-gay bullying his school failed to address, the law focuses on protecting students who are bullied based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, disability and religion.
Schools are required under the law not only to have a strong anti-bullying policy that spells out prohibited bases for bullying, but are also required to adopt a specific process for receiving and investigating complaints. School personnel are also required under the law to intervene and take immediate steps if they witness bullying.
When schools and school districts fail to have an anti-bullying policy in place or a process to respond to complaints of bullying, they can be held liable for injuries and damages caused. Schools can also be held liable when personnel fail to take the necessary steps to stop the bullying when they witness it.
Premises Liability Claims
There are also a growing number of premises liability lawsuits arising from schools' failure to keep students safe while on school property. Premises liability applies to landowners including schools that are required under the law to keep the premises safe for individuals who are legally allowed to be there. As property owners, they are required to exercise "a reasonable amount of care" when it comes to providing a safe environment for students. Schools are required to exercise additional care when situations involve students. Parents of children who are injured in a bullying incident may file a premises liability claim against a school or school district that failed to maintain safety on campus.