Bullying leading to lawsuits and new laws

Students have been victims of negligence or crimes that caused their deaths. A more recent cause of these tragedies in Ohio is bullying that have also led to wrongful death lawsuits.

In one case, an 8-year-old Cincinnati boy committed suicide earlier this year after he was bullied in an attack in the boy's restroom that was recorded on a school surveillance camera. He was unconscious for over seven minutes while students kicked him, according to the lawsuit.

His parents filed a wrongful death and civil rights lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the Cincinnati school district. Their attorneys also charge that the school district refused to disclose records showing if the victim was bullied before his suicide. The School District denied that the boy was bullied and asked for dismissal of this case.

In another cause of action, parents of a 13-year-old girl claim that the school district never provided them with any notification that their daughter was bullied before she took her life in 2014 when she was a student at Fairfield Middle School. However, her student record disclosed that she was bullying victim.

To help address this problem, Rep. Dave Greenspan introduced the Enact Ohio Anti-Bullying and Hazing Act. It would require standard penalties for bullying, intimidation and harassment including specified suspension periods for first-time offenders, expulsions for second offenses and mandatory community service for expelled students. Schools would have to provide academic assistance and counseling for bullies and their victims.

Significant for these lawsuits, school district would have to notify victims' families before the start of a bullying investigation. School districts now set their own notification rules and most districts notify families only after an investigation verifies that bullying occurred. Plaintiffs in these lawsuits wondered whether earlier notice may have led to intervention that would have prevented their children's suicides.

State Senator Sandra Williams also introduced bills where aggravated bullying would become a criminal offense punishable with imprisonment up to 60 days and a fine up to $500. Schools would have to set up disciplinary procedures ranging from a warning for a first-time offense and referral to a prosecutor for a sixth violation.

Families of victims of bullying or other dangerous behavior should seek legal assistance to pursue their rights to compensation. A lawyer can help gather evidence and hold parties liable.

Source: WCPO Cincinnati, "I-Team: Ohio legislators looking at bullying laws amid student suicides," Hillary Lake, Nov. 15, 2017

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