Grief knows no bounds when children wrongfully die. This case was heart wrenching for the parents.
Unfortunately, the world has come to be a place that is not safe for our children, especially at school. The incidents of harassment and bullying are at an all time high in many American schools. It is actually to a point where it has gotten out of hand. It makes you wonder what happened to the time when you went to school and, while you may have had disagreements with other kids in the class, you were rarely harassed or bullied because you might have been different.
Things have changed in the schoolyards of today, and they have not changed for the better. Consider this case of a 9-year-old boy who committed suicide at school because he was being unmercifully harassed and bullied by other kids. When this happened last year, his parents chose to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the school and the school district.
The foundation of the lawsuit was that the school did not protect their son from the misery he suffered on a daily basis. The young boy had a lisp and a learning disability, and these two things combined made him an easy target for others. He was constantly being taunted about being “gay.” The other kids would not leave him alone. Kids with learning differences (identified and unidentified) are bully magnets.
One day, the Texas-born child hanged himself in the nurse’s bathroom at his school. The parent’s lives have never been the same since that fateful day in 2010. Was the behavior of the other children teasing or bullying? Is there a distinction? This was, in fact, bullying, and there is a distinction between that and teasing. In bullying, the main purpose is to hurt and isolate another, whether physically, emotionally or socially. It is usually directed at an individual and is often excruciatingly relentless to the point of being emotional torture.
When teasing happens, the people involved are having a good time, laughing, trading funny remarks back and forth and it all stops if someone feels hurt or uncomfortable. Usually, if it is teasing, a person who crossed the line with something will stop and apologize, and the world goes on.
Is a wrongful death lawsuit the right way to handle a tragic case such as this? Yes, someone needs to be held accountable for the life of a 9-year-old boy who trusted his school environment would take care of him and support him when he needed help. Instead, he was ignored even while the bullying continued. He had nowhere to turn, and finally, out of desperation, he took his own life.
Wrongful death lawsuits typically deal with a claim that a victim was killed as a result of the negligence or other unjust action of another person or entity. The victim’s survivors are entitled to compensation as a result of their actions or inaction. A wrongful death claim is not the same as a normal personal injury negligence lawsuit in which a person who is hurt receives damages for their injuries.
At one time, wrongful death claims did not exist, largely because it was felt their death claim died with them and the victim could not be compensated. This meant surviving family members could not claim compensation from the person responsible for their loved one’s death. Eventually, all states passed wrongful death statutes that now provide compensation.
Each state drafted their own versions of a wrongful death statute, and thus, there are often different criteria to be met depending on where your claim is filed. Generally speaking though, there are four elements involved in a wrongful death claim: the death was caused by the conduct of the defendant; the defendant was negligent in causing the death; there is a surviving applicable family member and that monetary damages have been incurred because of the person’s death.
Brooks Schuelke is an Austin personal injury attorney with Perlmutter & Schuelke PLLC. Contact an Austin injury lawyer at Civtrial.com or (512) 476-4944.