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Florida Bullying Attorney
One of Brian Dunmire’s areas of interest is representing children and their family who have been the victim of bullying. Bullying can happen anywhere – school, afterschool, and even church. Bullying cases can be complex, but holding those accountable for enabling the bullying is something that an attorney can help with.
Oftentimes there may be responsible parties other than the person who is doing the bullying themselves. The organization where the bullying occurs might be held responsible for any injuries that occur as a result of bullying. This can happen when the business or organization failed to take reasonable steps to prevent a foreseeable injury from occurring. In layman’s terms, this means that if a school or organization has notice that a student – or teacher – is endangering other students, the school has a duty to stop this. Of course, it can become a lot more complicated than this.
In this section of my website I am going to go over some basics regarding bullying. “Bullying” can be used as a general term. It can mean anything from kids picking on other kids, to physical and sexual abuse. Of course, every case is different, so if you or your child has been the victim of bullying, assault, or battery, please contact us as soon as possible to have a confidential discussion regarding the facts of your case.
What is bullying?
The Center for Disease Control states that bullying is a form of youth violence and an “adverse childhood experience. The CDC actually defines bullying as “any unwanted aggressive behavior(s) by another youth or group of youths, who are not siblings or current dating partners, that involves an observed or perceived power imbalance, and is repeated multiple times or is highly likely to be repeated.” According to the CDC, common types of bullying include:
- Physical such as hitting, kicking, and tripping
- Verbal including name-calling and teasing
- Relational/social such as spreading rumors and leaving out of the group
- Damage to property of the victim
What is cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is the act of bullying another person online or through electronic means. It usually involves sending threatening, intimidating and offensive messages to another person on the internet or via messaging. It can also involve public exposure of a person’s personal pictures and videos, often using apps like photoshop to alter them in a negative way for the sole purpose of humiliation.
What is the difference between cyberbullying and physical bullying?
Cyberbullying differs from physical bullying in that Cyberbullying is done online using digital communication to humiliate another person, while physical bullying is done in person and involves physical abuse to harm and humiliate another person. This does not mean that Cyberbullying is less harmful than physical bullying, as a matter of fact victims of Cyberbullying could become severely depressed. Because Cyberbullying is done online, the bully does not need to show their face and can easily use an alias to remain anonymous, which makes it much easier for them to humiliate and harm others without being held accountable.
What is a school’s responsibility regarding bullying?
A school is responsible to protect its students and staff from known and foreseeable dangers. This, of course, can change based on the type of school or organization. When a school fails to take appropriate measures to protect its students, they may be liable for a “negligent supervision.”
Negligent supervision claims against schools are a well-established cause of action in the State of Florida. To prevail on a theory of negligent supervision, a plaintiff must prove the basic elements of negligence. This means that an injured party must establish (1) the existence of a teacher-student relationship between the parties giving rise to a legal duty on the part of the defendant-teacher to supervise the student; (2) the negligent breach of that duty; and (3) the proximate causation of the student’s injury by the teacher’s negligence. Ankers v. District School Board of Pasco County, 406 So. 2d 72 (Fla. 2d DCA 1981).
Regarding the foreseeability aspect, Florida has recognized that the foreseeability of the cause of an injury does not have to be specific. The only factor in determining whether the element of foreseeability is met is whether the foreseeable negligent actions could result in a harm. The specific type of harm does not, in and of itself, have to be foreseeable. As the Florida Supreme Court discussed in Rupp v. Bryant, 417 So.2d 658 (Fla.1982), “certain student misbehavior is itself foreseeable and therefore is not an intervening cause which will relieve principals or teachers from liability for failure to supervise....” Id.
What can I do if my child is beat up at school?
The first thing that you should do is seek immediate medical attention for your child and make sure that there are no life-threatening or very serious injuries. After that, make sure that you report the incident to the school and the authorities if appropriate. You will also want to contact an attorney as soon as possible to discuss the possibility of pursuing a legal action against the school or the individual who beat up your child.
My son or daughter is being bullied at school, what should I do?
The first thing you should do is communicate with your child, though in some situations this may not come easy. Children who are bullied often have low self-esteem so your child may fear speaking to you about bullying or feel embarrassed and ashamed. Once your child speaks to you about the situation, speak to the school’s administration about the bullying and see what they’re willing to do on their end to keep your child and other victims of bullying safe. However, if you feel like the school is downplaying the situation, reach out to people that are higher on the chain of command. Of course, you should also contact an attorney to discuss the bullying at school and to make sure that your child’s rights are protected.
Can I hold the school accountable if my child is bullied at school?
This is going to be fact dependent based on the individual case. This also varies a lot based on the type of school where the bullying occurred at.
For example, the State of Florida is a sovereign, and therefore the doctrine of sovereign immunity applies to Florida. You may of heard this phrase before, but don’t know exactly what it means. This means that you cannot sue the government – IE the government cannot be held accountable for its actions.
However, Florida has partially waived sovereign immunity, meaning that it allows people to bring claims against it. Prior to bringing a claim you need to follow some procedural hoops to be able to bring a claim. Even after getting through these hoops, Florida can only be held accountable for up to $200,000.00 in damages. This means that if the State of Florida was negligent in causing an injury, they are only liable up to $200,000.00 for your injuries. If you want any more than that, you will be required to get a State Representative to file a claims bill and have the Florida Legislature pass a bill allowing you to full compensation. This process could easily take years to complete, if ever.
For this reason it is sometimes very difficult to hold public schools accountable when things happen there. However, you should still contact our office to review any potential case involving bullying or abuse at public school. The circumstances surrounding school cases vary greatly and there could be a private party accountable, such as a booster club or some other organization.
Separate from public schools are claims against private schools, charter schools, or type II schools. These are all schools that receive either state funding (such as a charter school) or private tuition (in the case of private schools) in exchange for providing a safe learning environment for its students. Sadly, I have found that sometimes these schools will take the tuition money but fail to provide a safe and conducive learning environment for the students.
Here is the question: Can I sue a charter school for bullying? Answer: Yes, you can. Charter schools can be held accountable if they fail to recognize that bullying is taking place or if they know about the bullying but fail to do anything because of it. Further, some charter schools market towards a certain population of students, such as autistic or “troubled” youth. Because of this, they may have a heightened duty to provide a safe learning environment for children who may not otherwise fit the mold for other schools.
What does that mean?
That means that if your son or daughter goes to a charter school that specializes in education for autistic children, they need to provide a safe and secure learning environment tailored to students with autism. Without getting too far into the nitty-gritty, if a school holds itself out as a specialty school for kids with special needs, then they should provide exactly that. If they fail to take steps to protect the children from either themselves or other special-needs children, then the school can be held accountable for this. Schools that specialize in special-needs education arguably have a higher duty of care owed because of the foreseeability of injuries that could happen.
This means that even if the school says that your child is “the aggressor” or “to blame” for causing an injury, the school can still be held accountable if they failed to implement measures that would keep your child or other children safe. As a parent who is reading this, do not feel discouraged if the school says that your child is the one to blame for the injuries. I hear this from the schools in the cases that I handle and also from the school’s insurance companies. Let me be clear – blaming an injury on a special needs child at a school that supposedly specializes in special needs education usually does not go over well.
There certainly may be instances where a child is at fault for an accident and the school had no notice of the potential for injury. However, oftentimes when I review school cases there is a pattern of behavior that puts the school on notice about the potential for an injury to occur.
Florida has also enacted several laws related to bullying. For example, Fla. Stat. 1006.147 is titled the “Jeffrey Johnson Stand Up for All Students Act” and states that bullying or harassment of any student or employee of a public K-12 educational institution is prohibited. Other statutes include Fla. Stat. 1006.135 (hazing), Fla. Stat. 1002.40 (Florida Hope Scholarship Program), and Fla. Stat. 1003.4205, Disability history and awareness instruction. There are also Federal Statutes and regulations that would apply to bullying.
Can I hold the bully accountable if my child is bullied at school?
Yes. Florida allows for a civil cause of action for assault and/or battery in addition to other causes of action. This means that you may be able to file a lawsuit against the person who actually conducted the bullying.
My child was bullied at a private school, what are my options?
Unfortunately bullying certainly occurs at private and charter schools. These schools voluntarily accept tuition payment from parents and the State of Florida in exchange for providing a safe and healthy learning environment. When the schools fail to ensure the safety of their students, people could be injured. Florida Law allows for private parties to bring claims against private and charter schools. Claims against private and charter schools are also not subject to the Florida sovereign immunity cap, which allows for a full recovery of damages if all of the elements of a claim are established.
What are some signs that my kid is being bullied at school?
Some signs that your child is being bullied at school are:
- they come home with unexplainable injuries
- lost or damaged belongings (clothes, electronics, jewelry)
- they fake being sick to avoid going to school
- changes in eating habits (skipping meals, binge eating)
- difficulty sleeping/nightmares
- lower grades
- avoidance of social interactions/situations
- decreased self esteem
- self-destructive behavior (harming themselves, running away from home, expressing suicidal thoughts)
What to do if your child is being bullied?
As stated above, first make sure that your child is medically okay. Once you have confirmed this, contact Brian to discuss the specific details of your case. Holding the schools accountable for their failures to protect students from bullying can help to prevent future cases of bullying. This is one of the reasons why it is so important to stand up for yourself and to hold the school accountable.
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