Charles R. Gueli, Esq.
Charles R. Gueli, Esq.
Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a practicing personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He is currently a member in good standing of the New York State Bar and U.S. District Court.
Here’s what parents need to know about legal recourse against school bullies, their parents, and the school’s liability for personal injuries.
On This Page
- School Bullying and Liability for Injuries
- What to Do When Your Child is Bullied
- Laws Against Bullying
- 6 Types of School Bullying
- Signs Your Child is Being Bullied
Bullying in school is a serious problem. More than one out of five children report being bullied, meaning every child is exposed to bullying and violence at school, in one way or another.¹
Children who are bullied suffer long-term physical and emotional injuries. Bullying increases the risk of depression, low self-esteem, emotional distress, anxiety, poor grades, and self-harm, including suicide.²
Parents have the right to expect their child’s school to be a safe environment. Here’s what you can do if your child is being bullied at school.
School Bullying and Liability for Injuries
School administrators and teachers have a legal duty of care to do everything within reason to protect students from undue harm and injury.
When a school knows or should have known that a child was being bullied, and it failed to respond appropriately, the school may be legally negligent.
If a student is harmed or injured as a result of this negligence, then the school is liable, meaning responsible for any damages suffered by the student. Types of damages can include medical costs, pain and suffering, and the parent’s lost wages while caring for their child.
Proving the school’s liability for a child’s injuries requires:
- The school had a legal duty of care to the injured student.
- The bullying and injury to the student were foreseeable.
- The school failed to take reasonable action to stop the bullying.
- The student was in fact injured due to the bullying.
- The student has verifiable injuries.
To determine whether a school was negligent, the courts consider how a reasonable teacher or school administrator would have acted under similar circumstances.
The courts consider the following factors:
- The training and experience of the teacher in charge.
- The students’ grade levels.
- The location where the injury occurred.
- Whether the school knew or should have known the child was being bullied, and whether the school took adequate measures to stop further bullying before it occurred.
Schools and Sovereign Immunity
In some states, it’s not possible to sue any government entity, including a public school. This immunity from lawsuits is referred to as sovereign immunity, and it protects school districts from lawsuits associated with bullying.
In 1946, the federal government passed the Federal Tort Claims Act. This law waives sovereign immunity for some types of personal injury cases. Since then, most states have enacted laws that define the limits of sovereign immunity for state entities and their employees.
In most cases, a school can still be sued if there is evidence of negligence that resulted in student injury. As in any government case, there may be special rules or deadlines for filing your claim or lawsuit.
Case Example: Student Paralyzed by Punch from Bully
Sawyer Rosenstein was a 12-year-old middle-school student in New Jersey whose life was changed forever by a bully.
The bullying had been going on at school for months. Sawyer had reported the other student’s aggressive behavior to school officials, including emails to the guidance counselor asking for help. The same bully had previously punched another student in the face.
On May 16, 2006, the bully punched Sawyer in the abdomen so hard that he fell to his knees. The blow caused a blood clot in a major artery to Sawyers’ spine, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.
Sawyer’s family sued the school district, alleging the school district knew the bully had a history of violence, yet failed to comply with the state’s anti-bullying law.
In 2012, the school district agreed to pay $4.2 million to settle the case. A separate lawsuit against the bully and his parents was settled for an undisclosed amount.
What to Do When Your Child is Bullied
Let your child know you are there to support them. Bullying is never acceptable, and it is not the child’s fault. Physical or sexual violence against a child is criminal behavior. If your child is the victim of a crime, notify the police immediately.
If your child was physically or sexually injured or thinking of suicide, seek immediate medical attention. If your child’s medical provider suspects abuse, they are obligated to notify authorities.
Communicating with the School
Contact the school to report the bullying and discuss how the situation will be handled. You can start with your child’s teacher and work your way up from there.
You may need to speak with:
- The school counselor
- The principal
- The school superintendent
- The State Department of Education
Take detailed notes about every conversation you have with school staff and officials, including the date, time, and the name of the person you spoke with.
When the Teacher is The Bully
Increasing awareness of bullying has resulted in the development of a bullying policy in most schools. However, school programs invariably focus on bullying by students on students.
Sometimes the bullying behavior comes from the teacher or other classroom staff member. In this case, you may have a legal cause of action against the abusive teacher as well as the negligent school.
Case Example: School Teacher Bullies and Abuses Students
Theresa Allen-Caulboytaught special education classes at an elementary school in Antioch, California. Allen-Caulboybullied the children under her care verbally and physically.
The lawsuit filed on behalf of eight students documented ongoing verbal and physical abuse by Allen-Caulboy, including name-calling, threatening, using racial slurs, and “physical abuse including but not limited to hitting, gouging, pinching and restraining children.”
The lawsuit also blamed the Antioch school system for covering up the teacher’s ongoing abusive behavior.
The Antioch school district settled the case with the eight families for $8 million.
In a separate criminal proceeding, Allen-Caulboy pleaded guilty to one felony count of child abuse and two misdemeanor charges. The plea agreement included six months in jail and the surrender of her teaching credentials.
Seeking Compensation Through Legal Action
Consider talking to a personal injury attorney about your child’s case. Most injury attorneys and law firms offer a free consultation for bullying victims and their parents.
Some bullying cases are unlikely to be resolved outside of the legal system, such as:
- Extreme injuries to a child
- The bully/abuser was a teacher or other school employee
- Wrongful death of a child
Your attorney will help you pursue justice against all potentially negligent parties:
- The school district
- Individual school officials
- The bully who injured your child
- Parents of the bully
Whether or not the bully faces criminal charges, you have the right to file a civil lawsuit to pursue compensation for your child’s injuries.
Laws Against Bullying
There are no current federal laws specifically aimed at bullying. However, students who are bullied because of their race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity are protected under federal civil rights laws.
Civil Rights Act of 1968
Also known as the Fair Housing Act, this ground-breaking federal law was enacted to prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin on public transportation, in public places like lunchrooms, libraries, movie theaters, and any other place that serves the public.
The law also prohibited interference with an individual’s right to attend school.
Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act
This law protects disabled individuals from discrimination on the basis of disability in services, programs, and activities provided by State and local government entities, regardless of whether these entities receive Federal financial assistance.
Public schools are state and local government entities.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
This act ensures that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living.
The school must maintain an environment that supports the disabled child’s education plan. That includes protecting the child from bullies, once the school is aware of the bullying.
Local and State Laws About Bullying
Every U.S. state and territory, and many large metropolitan areas have laws and guidelines to protect children from bullying incidents.
Find your location on this State-by-State Map of Bullying Laws, Policies, and Regulations
6 Types of School Bullying
Parents are in a better position to protect their children when they know what they’re up against. Bullying is more than “kids being kids.” Learning the tactics most often used by a bully will help you understand the depth of harm to your child.
Putting a name to the type of bullying your child is suffering from will help you communicate with the school, authorities, and other parents.
1. Physical Bullying
Physical bullying is a form of physical assault that involves physical aggression, such as pushing, slapping, punching, hair-pulling, tripping, and hitting with objects, like school books. Physical bullying also includes restraining a child, pulling or tearing at clothing, and throwing objects or bodily fluids at a child.
2. Verbal Bullying
Vocal or verbal bullying is the use of language to berate another student, such as teasing, mocking, or name-calling. Verbal bullying includes racial slurs and taunts about the target’s perceived gender preferences, personal appearance, body shape, or disabilities.
3. Relational Aggression
Relational aggression is a variant of verbal bullying, when one or more students intentionally spread rumors, manipulate situations, and reveal confidential information to ruin another person’s reputation or social standing. Relational aggression is used more often by girls, especially between the fifth and eighth grades.
4. Reactive Bullying
Reactive bullying happens when one student falsely presents themselves as a victim when they are actually the bully. Reactive bullies persistently taunt, tease, push, or strike their victims until the victim strikes out.
Online or cyberbullying consists of the use of social media to willfully, viciously, and maliciously harass a student, whether by posting unflattering and compromising photographs, making derogatory, demeaning, or hurtful remarks, or otherwise abusing, belittling, or harassing another student.
6. Sexual Bullying
Sexual harassment or bullying can include comments, actions, gestures, or unwanted touching related to the victim’s appearance, body parts, gender, perceived sexual orientation, or perceived sexual activity. Sexual bullying can rise to the level of sexual assault.
Frequent Locations for Bullying
Students are often bullied on their way to school or on their way home, on the bus, or while walking. Bullying can also happen inside the school building, often in locations out of direct sight of teachers such as:
- Locker rooms
Signs Your Child is Being Bullied
You know your child better than anyone else. Trust your instincts if you feel there is something “off.”
Your child may not tell you about being bullied because:
- They’re embarrassed to admit they are being bullied
- They’re afraid no one will believe them
- They’re worried about the repercussions of “telling on” the bully
- They feel so bad about themselves, they think they deserve to be treated badly
Warning signs in your child can include:
- Doesn’t want to go to school
- Refuses to ride the bus or starts missing the bus
- Comes home with missing or damaged personal items
- Has unexplained marks or bruises
- Loses interest in school activities
- Falling grades
- Sleep problems, bedwetting, or nightmares
- Crying, sad, and depressed behavior
Children with Disabilities
Children with disabilities are at increased risk of being bullied. Special needs children exhibit many of the same warning signs of being bullied as other schoolchildren.
Additional warning signs of bullying and abuse in non-verbal children may include:
- Social withdrawal
- Avoidance of certain places or people
- Behavioral outbursts around certain people or places
- Developmental regression
School Bullying Victim Resources
StopBullying.gov:Information to help prevent bullying, designed for parents, schools, and kids.
U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights: Provides information on filing a civil rights complaint about harassment at school.
U.S. Commission on Civil Rights: Referral Service to report hate crimes and discrimination complaints.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: (800) 273-8255
LGBT National Help Center: Provides free and confidential support and local resources to gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgendered people.
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Lawsuits for Bullying Questions
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Can we sue the public school for the cost of private school tuition?
My child was the victim of a premeditated assault earlier this month. The student who attacked her had prepped a class of kids that it…
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How do I sue a school district in California? ›
Generally, if you wish to file a claim against a school district, you must file a claim within 6 months for claims which are for:
- Personal injury,
- Wrongful death, or.
- Damage to personal property.
You must file a lawsuit in a court that has jurisdiction over the school and the incident that took place. Typically this will be a court in the same city or county where the school is located. You also must choose between state or federal court. In most cases, you'll file your lawsuit in state court.Can I take legal action against a school? ›
If you or your child has been discriminated against by a school, college or university, you may be able to take action against them under the Act. For example, you can make a complaint or you can make a discrimination claim in court.How do I file a complaint against a school in California? ›
Email your request to email@example.com or fax the request to 916-327-8878.Can you sue a school for emotional distress in Texas? ›
If the school was at fault or did nothing to prevent your emotional and physical injuries, you can potentially sue your school for emotional distress. Compensation could include medical and counseling expenses, awards for loss of life quality, and other damages.What can you sue a school for in Texas? ›
The doctrine of sovereign immunity protects Texas public schools from lawsuits. “The only way a school and its district (including charter schools) can be successfully sued is if the injury occurred 'out of the operation or use of a motor vehicle'”.How do I file a formal complaint against a school in Texas? ›
A person or entity may file a written complaint with TEA by filling out the complaint form online or by mailing a hard copy to the address on the form.Can you claim against a school? ›
In fact, as with any other organisation, schools have a legal obligation to try and keep their premises and activities as safe as possible. However, if a school has been negligent and you or your child has been injured as a result, you may be able to claim compensation by filing a school accident claim against them.What reasons can you take your child out of school? ›
Schools must authorise an absence where a child is ill or has a medical appointment. Government guidance recommends that schools should authorise medical absences unless they have reasons to doubt that they are genuine, and that schools should not ask for unnecessary medical evidence.Can I sue a school for safeguarding? ›
Schools have a responsibility to safeguard staff, students, parents and visitors on their premises. When a school neglects this duty of care, and you suffer an injury as a result, it could make you eligible to make a personal injury claim.
How do I make a serious complaint about a school? ›
Make a formal complaint
You'll usually need to email or write a letter to the headteacher and to the governing body telling them you're making a formal complaint. You'll need to explain the problem and why you're unhappy with what the school has done about it.
A student may sue a school district if they are over 18, but as long as they are a minor, they generally cannot do so on their own. Federal and California state law effectively bars minors from filing lawsuits because they lack the capacity to enter into contracts, hire legal counsel, and sign court documents.Can you complain about a school anonymously? ›
If you would like to speak to someone, or need direct support or guidance, please choose to speak to an advisor. Anonymous reports will enable us to monitor trends and build a picture of issues across LSHTM where people do not feel able to reveal personal information.How much does emotional distress pay in Texas? ›
The value of your claim will depend on the severity of your losses. How much you receive for emotional distress may also depend on Texas's damage cap. If you file a medical malpractice claim, there is a statewide damage cap of $500,000 total per health care facility and $250,000 total for an individual physician.Can you sue a school for losing your child in Texas? ›
Unfair Expulsion or Suspension
We mentioned that students have the right to an education and that schools cannot arbitrarily refuse to educate students. If a school unfairly expels your child in the line of discipline, you may be able to sue them for reinstatement or compensation.
A school district may be held liable, under state law, for damages arising out of an employee's negligent operation or use of a motor vehicle. If injuries and/or property damages have not occurred as the result of the negligent use or operation of a vehicle, there is no district liability.What is the Texas Tort Claims Act? ›
WHAT IS THE TEXAS TORTS CLAIMS ACT? The Texas Tort Claims Act (TTCA or Act) is a set of state statutes that determine when a city or other governmental entity may be liable for accidents or intentional acts that cause property damage or personal injury.Can you sue social services for emotional distress? ›
Yes, you can sue social services for distress and potentially other damages too. As well as the figure that's awarded for your psychological distress (which is known as non-material damages), you may also be eligible to receive material damages too.What is a grievance in school? ›
1. Grievance. A grievance is an allegation by a classified employee that a written District rule, policy, or administrative procedure has been violated.How long does a school have to respond to a formal complaint? ›
It may help to make an appointment with the headteacher to discuss your concerns at this stage. The school will reply to your complaint within 15 school days.
How do schools deal with unfair treatment? ›
If you want to file a complaint with the school district, make sure that you've done your due diligence in addressing the issue, which means you will want to go up the chain of command. Start with the teacher, then the principal, then the district head, and then the superintendent.Can you sue a school for compensation? ›
It is possible to sue a school for almost any type of injury caused by the school's negligence. This means claims might be possible for broken bones, burns, serious head injuries, back injuries and soft tissue injuries including sprains, strains and muscle tears.What is the California Tort Claims Act? ›
The California Tort Claims Act (CTCA) is a law enacted by the California Legislature with the intent to protect the state government from liability in certain personal injury cases. The law states that, generally, “a public entity is not liable for an injury” caused by that public entity or any of its employees.How do I complain to the Department of Education? ›
- Call Centre: 0800 202 933 | Callcentre@dbe.gov.za.
- Switchboard: 012 357 3000.
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Certification: 012 357 4511/3 | Certificationapplications@dbe.gov.za.
- Media Queries: email@example.com.
- Website-related queries: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Information Officer: Chris Leukes:
You would have to prove that the teacher was negligent or malicious in failing you. While grades can be subjective it is pretty easy to prove the proof the student didn't not meet the requirements to pass the class.Can you sue a school in Texas? ›
A school district may be held liable, under state law, for damages arising out of an employee's negligent operation or use of a motor vehicle. If injuries and/or property damages have not occurred as the result of the negligent use or operation of a vehicle, there is no district liability.Is suing a school hard? ›
It's not easy to sue a school district, but it can be done. If you believe your child's rights were violated by their school, the first thing you should do is contact a lawyer who specializes in this area of law.How do I report school for negligence? ›
You'll usually need to email or write a letter to the headteacher and to the governing body telling them you're making a formal complaint. You'll need to explain the problem and why you're unhappy with what the school has done about it.What are examples of negligence in education? ›
Negligence issues can range from having pupils “left behind” in the classroom, failure to provide an adequate standard of education, failing to follow-up on non-attendance or truancy, to a lack of support for special educational needs or disabilities that has resulted in lost opportunities as an adult.How do I file a class action lawsuit in California? ›
Any potential plaintiff can initiate a class action in California. The first step is to file a lawsuit and move for certification. The court then decides whether the proposed new class action claim meets the requirements for certification. At this point, the judge does not consider the underlying merits of the case.
What is a tortious claim? ›
Tortious liability arises when someone is injured or suffers a loss due to another person's actions or their negligence.What are 3 examples of a tort? ›
Common torts include:assault, battery, damage to personal property, conversion of personal property, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Injury to people may include emotional harm as well as physical harm.How long does a school have to respond to a complaint? ›
It may help to make an appointment with the headteacher to discuss your concerns at this stage. The school will reply to your complaint within 15 school days.Can a school withhold a report card? ›
The law that report cards may not be withheld is informed by Section 29 (12) of the National Protocol on Assessments for Grade R to 12, which prohibits public and private schools from withholding report cards for any reason.What is private schools act no 104 of 1986? ›
The Private Schools Act (House of Assembly) 104 of 1986 intends: to provide for the registration of, the control over, and the making of financial grants to, private schools, and for matters connected therewith.