School bullying generally involves repeated instances of harassment, intimidation, violence, or threats of violence, from one student to another at a school setting. This can include various issues, including both physical acts of violence, as well as mentally or emotionally abusive speech or written message. In many cases, bullying occurs from one student to another, but in some cases, several students can also “gang up” on one chosen victim.

In past decades, bullying was generally seen as a “normal” part of growing up, and was often allowed to persist in a school setting. However, in recent decades and years, social experts are recognizing the dangers of bullying.  

We now know that such incidents can contribute to emotional and mental trauma later on in a person’s life. As a result, many schools systems and counties are adopting “anti-bullying” rules and laws. 

Who May Be Held Liable for School Bullying?

In most instances, it is the student (or students) doing the bullying who may be held liable for cases of persistent bullying. This typically requires a school investigation into the incident or incidents, and may require testimony from other witnesses, such as students, teachers, or yard attendants. School liability for student injuries is often challenging to prove, and can involve lengthy investigations by school authorities, the police, and other persons.

Generally speaking, a monetary damages award can only be issued in cases where the student suffered actual harm or losses due to the bullying (such as a verifiable physical injury). Loss of personal property through theft is often an aspect of bullying, such as when the bully forcefully steals items from the victim.

In some cases, the school or a school employees might actually be held liable for school bullying incidents. This is especially true in instance where a school teacher knew about the bullying situation or witnessed it, but did nothing to intervene or prevent the unwanted conduct. 

What is Cyber Bullying? Can Schools be Held Liable for Cyber Bullying?

A relatively newer aspect of bullying involving harassment or intimidation is called “cyberbullying”, which happens over internet and social media channels. For instance, this can involve flooding person’s social network page with cruel remarks intended to cause the person distress. 

It can also involve other channels, such as distributing inappropriate or offensive pictures of the person through mass text messages to other classmates. Internet stalking can also be an aspect of many cyberbullying cases.

One note to consider is that cyberbullying can occur either at school or away from school, during off school hours. Thus, even though students may be involved in cyberbullying against one another, it can be difficult to hold a school liable for injuries or damages caused by cyberbullying, especially during off-school hours. This is because the school generally has no control over the student’s conduct online. Also, generally speaking, they don’t owe the students any duty to regulate such online interactions. 

On the other hand, it might be possible to hold a school or school district liable for school bullying if there is a very serious situation involved. This becomes especially true if the school or school officials knew about possible dangers, but failed to investigate them or take any action. Again, cyber bullying is a relatively new cultural and social phenomenon, so not every state has laws governing it.

Can School Bullying Lead to Criminal Charges?

In some cases, school bullying can escalate from mere words and threats to actual violence or physical dangers. In such cases, the bullying incident or incidents can actually lead to criminal charges and consequences. This can be the case in school bullying incidents or patterns where:

  • A student suffered severe bodily injuries due to bullying conduct, especially repeated conduct (such as battery incidents that repeat every week);
  • Major property loss or damage was involved in the bullying situation. An example of this is where a student’s car or home is severely damage in connection with bullying behavior; 
  • Situations involving harassment or stalking. In particular, cases that involve sexual harassment or sexual assaults are particularly dangerous and will generally lead to an in-depth criminal investigation; and/or
  • Assault or battery situations where the victim of the bullying was severely outnumbered or where they were assaulted or battered by a student much bigger than them in size.

Penalties for criminal conduct connected with school bullying will depend on several factors, mainly, the seriousness of the injuries or property damage involved. Criminal consequences can involve criminal fees or fines, and/or a potential sentence in a county jail. More serious crimes can result in felony penalties, which can involve higher fines and longer sentences.   

Do I Need a Lawyer for Representation in a School Bullying Lawsuit?

School bullying is serious and can often lead to severe injuries or substantial losses for student victims. It may be in your best interests to hire a government lawyer if you need assistance investigating or filing a legal claim for school bullying.  

An attorney in your area can help you determine which parties may be held liable, and whether any options for legal remedies are available. Also, your lawyer will be able to represent you during court hearings if you need to participate in a lawsuit.