Public School Liability for a Child Hurt by Bullying on School Property

Recent media coverage has put the spotlight on bullying and its adverse effects on children. There is a paradigm shift occurring in our society wherein bullying is no longer viewed as a normal part of growing up, and is instead being considered harmful and preventable. A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that 20% of students in grades nine through twelve will experience some form of verbal, social, or physical bullying. In fact, under Florida Statute Section 1006.147, public schools are required to implement anti-bullying measures or risk the loss of funding by the State. Which raises a question in the minds of most parents: if my child is physically hurt by a bully at school, is the school liable for damages?

Florida Laws Regarding Bullying

Public school districts, as a type of governmental entity, are covered by a legal doctrine known as “sovereign immunity” which comes from an old English way of thinking that shielded governmental powers from liability. This was based on the flawed theory that “the King can do no wrong.” Fortunately, lawmakers in Florida and other states have softened this fallacy’s harsh result by carving out an exception to this doctrine. Under Florida Statute Section 768.28, a governmental entity can be held liable the same as a private citizen if it has a duty to act, fails to act reasonably, and that failure to act reasonably results in injury.

In the context of bullying, this is the touchstone to determine whether a school can be liable for a child hurt by bullying. For example, let’s take the situation where a child is repeatedly bullied by the same child or group of children at school, and the parents of the child repeatedly report the activity to the proper school administrators. The administrators do nothing to investigate the claim; fail to interview the children involved; fail to interview potential witnesses such as classmates and teachers; and otherwise ignore the situation. The child is then severely injured by the same bully on school property. There can be liability here and a lawsuit would have merit. The school was in a position to do something about activity occurring on its property and failed to do so.

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Florida Anti-Bullying Litigation

There have been several lawsuits filed in recent years in Florida based upon this theory of liability. For instance, the Broward County School District was sued earlier this year by the parents of a twelve year old disabled girl who allegedly suffered brain damage during an attack in a school classroom during the showing of a movie. The girl’s face was covered and she was asphyxiated. The parents allege that they reported prior attacks and bullying of their daughter to teachers and school administrators, but they did nothing to prevent the attacks. The bottom line here is that bullying of any sort is harmful, should be reported, and should be acted upon by public school officials who are in a position to control the behavior of the bully.

There is a paradigm shift occurring in our society wherein bullying is no longer viewed as a normal part of growing up, and is instead being considered harmful and preventable.

Florida Attorneys for You

Bullying is unacceptable and should be reported as soon as possible.  If your loved one is being bullied or has suffered from bullying – contact the attorneys at Bogin, Munns & Munns today.

NOTICE: The article above is not intended to serve as legal advice, and you should not rely on it as such. It is offered only as general information. You should consult with a duly licensed attorney regarding your Florida legal matter, as every situation is unique. Please know that merely reading this article, subscribing to this blog, or otherwise contacting Bogin, Munns & Munns does not establish an attorney-client relationship with our firm. Should you seek legal representation from Bogin, Munns & Munns, any such representation must first be agreed to by the firm and confirmed in a written agreement.

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