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Haynes v. Middletown – School Bullying Lawsuits on the Rise

There was a time when bullying – even severe bullying – was scene as strictly within the purview of schools and parents and those youth involved. Increasingly, however, as awareness has risen and cyberbullying makes harassment almost inescapable, these matters are being handled by the courts.

In Florida, a Coral Springs mother filed a lawsuit against the local school district in 2011 after she said bullying led her 13-year-old daughter to the brink of suicide. In 2012, parents of a Palm Beach County middle school student filed a civil lawsuit against the local district for incessant bullying of their 14-year-old son suffered repeated thefts, harassment and stalking by the son of the principal, who did nothing to address the problem. Earlier this year, parents of a 12-year-old Orlando-area girl who killed herself after being bullied for months on social media (being told to “drink bleach and die” and “go kill yourself”) sued the school district for failing to stop the harassment.

But it’s not just Florida. Recently, a bullying lawsuit made it all the way to the state supreme court in Connecticut, where justices ruled plaintiffs in Hayes v. City of Middletown were entitled to a new trial, after finding numerous errors by both the trial and appellate courts.

Our Fort Lauderdale child injury lawyers know that lawsuits against school districts can be challenging because plaintiffs are up against governmental immunity assertions. School districts and personnel are largely protected under government immunity, but there are of course exceptions.

It was alleged governmental immunity that was alleged in the Hayes case, though the Connecticut Supreme Court indicated there was evidence an exception was warranted under the “proof of imminent harm to identifiable persons” provision.

According to court records, plaintiff’s then-minor son was pushed into the jagged edge of a rusty locker that had been in poor condition since the beginning of the school year. The incident happened during school hours, and school officials were reportedly aware of the poor locker condition and the fact the boys engaged in “horseplay” in the locker room, though they had been advised to refrain.

The case went to trial and plaintiffs won, though jurors found the school to be 77 percent liable. At this point, no lawsuit has been filed against the teen’s former aggressors.

Although school districts often hide behind governmental immunity doctrines in these situations, some state legislatures (Connecticut being one) have legally expanded the scope of school district responsibility when it comes to maintaining safe learning environments.

In Florida, F.S. 1006.147 is known as the “Anti-Bullying Law,” or formally, the “Jeffrey Johnson Stand Up for All Students Act.” It requires each district to adopt anti-bullying and anti-harassment policies. However, there is no specific provision creating a private right of action for failure to adhere to these standards.

That doesn’t necessarily mean plaintiffs in these matters won’t be successful. But it does mean they will need an attorney with extensive experience to represent them in court.

Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:

Hayes v. City of Middletown , Nov. 4, 2014, Connecticut Supreme Court

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Nursing Home Fined for Failing to Test Diabetic Residents, Oct. 20, 2014, Fort Lauderdale Child Injury Lawyer

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