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Could Parents of Bullies Be Held Liable for Harm to Victims?


Every day in the United States, nearly 15 percent of children refuse to attend school for fear of being bullied, according to the National Education Association. In extreme cases, staying home does not provide enough of an escape from the daily pushing, shoving, and verbal attacks, and victims instead choose what they see as a permanent solution: suicide. Claiming the lives of students throughout the country, bullying has become a widespread problem in the United States. While school districts have commonly been the target of lawsuits, parents in Orange County, California recently pursued legal action against the perceived perpetrators of their son’s death.

“Given that most personal injury or wrongful death lawsuits arising from bullying involve children or teenagers, the parents are often held liable for the harm the victim suffered,” explained an attorney in Orange County.

On May 1st, 2009, 16-year-old San Clemente High School student Daniel Mendez was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head in a residential neighborhood near his home. Claiming that four of Mendez’s classmates had bullied him as far back as the sixth grade up to the day he died, his parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit. However, since bullies are often minors with limited financial assets, lawsuits holding them accountable will usually involve the parents of the bully. In this case, settlement damages for at least one of the defendants were paid through the family’s insurance company, reported the Orange County Register.

According to California Civil Code Section 1714.1, parents can be civilly liable for acts of their minor children if the parents had custody and control of the child and if the child’s acts involved willful misconduct resulting in injury or death to another person.

Parents in California, therefore, have incentive just as schools do to take action to stop bullying. While the best and most obvious reason to talk to children about bullying is to protect innocent students from physical or emotional harm, the threat of a civil lawsuit should also prompt both parents and school districts throughout California to take the bullying problem seriously and to take action to stop it.

Resources for the victims of negligent or wrongful acts, including books and articles on the process of pursuing an injury or a wrongful death claim, are available to the public free of charge.

If you would like to request one of these free resources, or to speak with an Orange County injury attorney, feel free to call 866-981-5596.

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