Bullying and hazing are problems that have tormented school-age children for years.

But, should bullies be held legally responsible for any harm they cause?

Tragedies like the Columbine shootings in the 1990’s have constantly called to mind our national sensibilities as to what really happens in our school yards, and what school administrators are doing about it. The most prevalent fact is that bullying continues, often with devastating effects on children’s feelings of self-worth and self-esteem. Sometimes childhood depression leads to extremes.

What actions should we take against bullies?

According to a local Albuquerque News Report an 11-year-old bullying victim said she was tormented so much that she tried to commit suicide. In the report the girl was shown, with her mother, alongside a drawing she had made. The drawing was a depiction of how cruel her classmates had treated her. In situations like this we are simply relieved to know that the child is okay, and that something is being done to prevent future occurrences, however, no matter what we seem to do the problem persists, and some wonder if more drastic remedies should be taken against bullies.

The law is not entirely blind to the issues involved in cases of what essentially amount to hurt feelings (for here we are not including bullying that involves physical contact) and provides a means of recourse through lawsuits alleging Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED). When a plaintiff brings an IIED lawsuit they must prove that the conduct of the Defendant was extreme and outrageous under the circumstances; that the Defendant acted intentionally or recklessly; and, as a result of the conduct, the plaintiff experienced severe emotional distress[1]. Extreme and outrageous conduct is that which goes beyond the bounds of common decency and is atrocious and intolerable to the ordinary person and emotional distress is “severe” if it is of such an intensity and duration that no ordinary person would be expected to tolerate it. Bullying seems to fit perfectly under all of these factors, yet lawsuits are not commonly pursued.

Who is responsible for a bully’s actions and why we see more lawsuits?

It could have something to do with who would be sued, as it is hard to deem an entire school responsible for the actions of a few bad apples. What about the parents? Demographically speaking the average American household simply has little to nothing – in terms of liquefiable assets to recover. Still, there are harder questions to answer. Is our society, as a whole, simply babying our children too much? Should, even more, be done by the government?

This is a topic that we are hesitant to address, which is why we want to know what you think.

The law behind Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress exists for a reason, to compensate those who have been severely damaged, either psychologically or emotionally, by the utter disregard for human dignity by another person.

The question we are posing is whether bullying by words alone is an issue for which the law should provide a remedy. If so, who should ultimately be responsible (parents, schools, child) and what remedy would you provide the victim or their family?

For more information on IIED and other personal injury causes of action please contact a qualified New Mexico personal injury attorney.

[1] N.M. U.J.I. Civ. 13-1628 (2012)

Ben Davis

Author Ben Davis

Ben Davis is a personal injury attorney based in Albuquerque, licensed to practice throughout the State of New Mexico and helps with malpractice and mass tort cases across the United States.

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