Liability for School Bullying: Is District Responsible for Student Assault and Head Injury?

Bangor personal injury lawsuits don’t typically stem from high school dramas. However with an increased awareness of bullying and a number of school districts embracing “zero tolerance” policies, the question becomes to what extent is a school responsible for a student-on-student attack? What preventative action should be considered “reasonable”?

Two high school students in Maine didn’t like each other. They started exchanging texts that insulted one another. It ended in a physical confrontation into which the older brother of one teen inserted himself, resulting in a head injury to the other student. This led to more than 200 students of the school engaging in a walk-out and rally – in support of the teen whose older brother carried out the assault. Although the older brother faced criminal charges, the Bangor Daily News reported he’d been defending his brother from being bullied for his sexuality. But questions still remain about exactly who was bullying whom.

The parents of the student who suffered a head injury are suing the school district as well as the parents of the other teen and his older brother. In that lawsuit, plaintiffs allege their son, who had special protected status as a result of a disability  (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and anxiety) was not granted the occasionally necessary “quiet space” to help him ward off anxiety attacks. His parents had also requested other changes to his education plan in light of fear to address the “growing concerns for his physical safety.” Since middle school, he’d purportedly been the subject of taunts from the other student (who identified as homosexual) on the basis of his perceived non-conformance with certain gender stereotypes and norms. The two started exchanging text messages and other students joined in, with much of it being offensive. 

However early in the school year, the parent of the other teen (now a defendant) told a local newspaper his son had been bullied since the start of the school year for his sexuality. Plaintiffs allege it was the other way around, and that their son was threatened by the other teen’s older brother. And in fact, an attack did occur in October, as recorded on school security cameras. Plaintiffs’ son suffered a head injury, several contusions and a dislocated jaw. His recovery took three months and he has not returned to school.

Plaintiffs allege the school failed to protect their son.

School Liability for Bullying, Assaults

Bullying can give rise to legal action. The term typically refers to physical, verbal or other acts carried out with the intention of harassing, intimidating or causing harm to someone else. Many schools have anti-bullying policies. Maine is among many states to have adopted anti-bullying statutes. This can create a cause of action against a school when it fails to protect, resulting in a hostile education environment. These statutes, which encompass acts of cyberbullying too, also cover off-campus conduct, but only if the bullying infringes on the rights of a student while at school. In the York school injury case, the primary act resulting in injury did occur at school.

Further, Maine’s anti-bullying law, 20-A M.R.S. § 6554, includes protections for specific groups. Bullying may be a civil rights violation when it is based on one’s actual or perceived characteristics of:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Ancestry
  • National Origin
  • Physical or Mental Disability
  • Sexual Orientation
  • A student’s association with someone having one or more of these traits, perceived or actual

If you have questions about whether a school bullying incident may be grounds for a lawsuit, contact our Bangor personal injury attorneys to help answer your questions and determine the best course of action.

If your child is the victim of a Bangor school injury, contact Peter Thompson & Associates at 1-800-490-5218 for a confidential consultation to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:

Lawsuit claims Maine school should have protected student from bullying, assault, Nov. 22, 2018, By Deborah McDermott, The York Weekly

More Blog Entries:

Maine School Injury Case Results in Partial Summary Judgment, Aug. 9, 2018, Bangor School Injury Attorney Blog