Fighting Bullying: The Legal Keys

If your child, or a child of a friend, is being bullied in school, determining the best route to end the bullying and make the victim whole again is not an elementary task. Often times, turning the other cheek can produce some negative outcomes, such as a continuation or worsening of the bullying.  Fortunately, in South Carolina, legal paths exist to help victims and their parents overcome bullying and hold bullies (or their employers) legally responsible for the negative impact the bullying had on the victim.

Student-on-Student

A district may be held liable for failing to supervise or protect the student–victim, or for failing to supervise or control the student–bully.  If the bullying continues and is a result of the district’s failure to train its employees or failure to address bullying in the student handbook, the district may be ordered to comply with state laws requiring such actions.  In both of these situations, once the district complies with the law, it seems much more likely that cases of bullying will decrease and, theoretically, all students would benefit.

Employee-on-Student

A district may be held liable if it is grossly negligent in its supervision of an employee or hiring of an employee.  Further, a court may hold the district liable if it failed to supervise and protect the student from the employee’s conduct.

Alternatively, if the employee acted with actual malice or an intent to harm the victim, the district may not be liable, but the employee likely is.  In this situation, the Tort Claims Act essentially precludes an action against the school but reopens the availability of a claim against the employee.  Take, for example, the following illustration and proceeding hypothetic:

 

That sad person is you or your child, who has been physically hurt by a district employee—a teacher.  You know tort liability exists, but you don’t know how to reach the school or teacher because the Tort Claims Act (the red line) is seemingly impermeable. 

To get Key 1, you have to show the teacher’s—or the district’s—actions were grossly negligent; then, you may enter into the district’s box of liability and assert an action against the district.  Next, if the teacher acted with actual malice, you get Key 2.  However, in most situations, the district will then take Key 3, put you and the teacher back into the regular realm of tort liability (the blue circle), and close Door 3 behind you both, leaving you to bring an action against only the teacher.

 

Ultimately, taking advantage of legal avenues will likely produce a better outcome than simply turning your cheek or meeting violence with violence.  If you have any questions about liability stemming from the bullying of your child or need advice on how to approach this sensitive issue, please give us a call at (803) 790-2800.  We are happy to guide you through the legal process.