La Crescenta School Sued after Bullied Student Jumps to His Death
On February 10, a 15-year-old student attending Crescenta Valley High School in La Crescenta, California jumped to his death from a third story building in front of other students. The teen left behind four suicide notes on his body. His parents have filed a lawsuit alleging that the school turned a blind eye to bullying.
“The wrongful death lawsuit is not the first attempt to hold a school responsible for bullying,” explained California personal injury lawyer James Ballidis.
Although none of the suicide letters mentioned bullying, the parents of the student allege that bullying was a major reason for the suicide. According to the boy’s parents, he was picked on as a result of his attitude towards girls; his small size; his style and his demeanor. The bullying, they claim, was ongoing, and the school allegedly ignored the problem. As a result, the parents filed a $2 million wrongful death claim.
In the claim, specific information about bullying incidents was provided. In one incident, for example, the boy was physically pushed and slapped as well as spit on. Harassment reports were filed after the incident, including a report by his sister complaining about the abuse of her brother and her own harassment due to their association.
The parents also indicate that their son had tried many times to seek help. In one incident, he filed a report of harassment and he was forced to sit with the abusers as they all signed a contract about their behavior. He also allegedly tried to switch out of classes with students who were bullying him but the school did little to fulfill his requests.
In November 2011, he was diagnosed with major depressive disorder. He also sent several text messages to his mother indicating that he was considering suicide. His parents attribute many of his problems to the bullying he endured and to the lack of the response from the school.
Is the School Responsible?
Schools in California have been held responsible or have accepted responsibility for turning a blind eye to bullying in the past. For example, in Ramelli and Donovan v. Poway Unified School District, a jury ordered the school to pay $300,000 in damages and attorneys fees after they showed deliberate indifference to ongoing harassing behavior. In two other cases, Ray v. Antioch and O.H. v. Oakland, schools settled because of their lack of response to ongoing bullying behavior.
Despite this history, however, the school district in this case, Glendale Unified, rejected the wrongful death claim in August. Possible reasons for the rejection of the claim included the fact that the suicide notes did not mention bullying; the fact that the deceased tested positive for marijuana and anti-depressants in the coroner’s report, and the fact that his parents were allegedly notified shortly before his death that he was suicidal. His parents, however, deny that they received such notification.
After the claim was rejected, the parents filed a lawsuit against the school district. The parents will have the burden of proving that the school district was in some way responsible for their son’s death. They could, for example, allege that the school district was negligent in providing supervision and protection and that the school breached its duty to students by not doing anything to prevent the dangerous bullying. The parents will also need to prove that their son’s death was a foreseeable result of the school’s failure.
Because of the suicide notes indicating other reasons for suicide, coupled with the history of depression, it is possible that the school will be able to make a solid argument that the boy’s death was unrelated to any negligence on its part in relation to bullying. Whether the school is successful in defending the lawsuit remains to be seen as the case proceeds to the courts or to settlement negotiations.
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