On May 28, just last week, a Queens County trial judge refused to throw out a lawsuit that was brought by the parents of a teen who had committed suicide as the result of bullying he had endured by his schoolmates.
To be clear, the court did dismiss most of the claims, such as the ones against the City of New York, which was not the correct defendant – it was supposed to be New York City’s Board or Department of Education. And the court also dismissed the claims for emotional trauma suffered by the parents of this teen.
The court also refused to hold the school legally responsible for the suicide, which the teen committed at home, rather than in school.
But the court refused to dismiss the claims they brought for the emotional trauma suffered by this teen while he was alive.
The question begs to be asked:
Once the court was going to dismiss the remaining claims, why did it allow this narrow claim for the teen’s emotional damages to survive?
For the answer to that question, let’s take a look at Justice Flug’s opinion:
“These emotional injuries were allegedly sustained by the decedent during school hours and on school premises and, as such, plaintiff may seek recovery of these damages based on a theory of negligent supervision. Therefore, plaintiff is not required to plead the existence of a separate and distinct special duty to recover damages for the emotional injuries sustained by decedent prior to his death (See, e.g., Miccio, supra at 543).
“Moreover, a claim that a school failed to adequately address the ongoing harassment of the decedent and that the decedent sustained emotional injuries as a result is a cognizable cause of action (See Cavello v. Sherburne-Earlville Cent. Sch. Dist., 110 AD2d 253, 255 [3d Dept. 1985]; see also Barmore v. Aidala, 419 F. Supp. 2d 193, 206 [N.D.N.Y. 2005]).”
In other words, the court held that while the school could not be held responsible for any harm that the teen suffered off school grounds, the school could be held liable for harm that occurred during school.
(Interestingly, this conclusion seems at least partially at odds with the recent decision by Nassau County Justice Feinman, who held that a New York school could be held liable even for bullying that occurs off of school premises, pursuant to the Dignity for All Students Act).
Here’s the challenge that these parents will face as this case moves forward:
How are they going to establish the particular bullying that their son suffered at school – as opposed to at home?