Yesterday, it was reported that the parents of a 14 year-old boy filed suit against his school district, alleging that "John Doe, then a 14-year-old freshman at Camdenton High School, experienced emotional trauma and what amounts to hazing when he was prevented from leaving social studies teacher John Garagnani’s classroom to use the restroom."
According to the complaint, the 14 year-old student, left with no other choice, lost control of his bodily functions in front of his classmates, causing him emotional trauma.
Is This a Viable Lawsuit?
To be sure, having "an accident" in front of your classmates at the age of 14 is profoundly embarrassing.
But the answer to the question as to whether this fact pattern warrants the filing of a lawsuit against the school district turns on the answers to the following three (3) questions:
(1) Does this actually constitute "hazing" by the teacher?;
(2) If so, how can the plaintiffs prove that this was, in fact, "hazing"; and,
(3) What are this teen's long-term demonstrable damages stemming from this incident?
The answer to the ultimate question posed by this post (and at the head of this paragraph) - at least in my view - turns on the answers to the latter two questions, and their importance will be addressed out of sequence, for reasons I will explain.
Why This Claim Will Be Unlikely to Net the Plaintiff Anything More Than a Nominal Return
First, and as a threshold matter, if the teen did not sustain any lasting injury as a direct result of this incident, any large damages award he may ultimately win would be overturned by the court, whether at the trial court or appellate level. That's simply a basic rule of how the system works: you can only recover substantial damages for past pain and suffering and cost of medical care, as well as future pain suffering, and cost of ongoing medical care. And unless his damages can be documented by, say, documented medical and mental health treatment, there will be no viable future pain and suffering component to the claim.
In this case, I believe it will be highly unlikely for the plaintiff to succeed on the future anticipated damages component of the claim.
Second, I believe it will be even harder to establish that the teacher's conduct constituted "hazing" of the teen. Granted, the teacher's refusal to allow the teen to go to the bathroom was terrible, but unless there is video footage of the teacher refusing to let the child go to the bathroom and then teasing the plaintiff about it (in which case it may be worthwhile to bring the suit just for the potential punitive damages aspect of the claim), I think the plaintiff will be hard-pressed to establish that this was anything other than an honest, misguided mistake by the teacher.