Who Is Responsible When School Fights Result in Serious or Fatal Personal Injury?In February 2012, a fight between two young girls over a boy left one 11-year-old California resident dead. The victim allegedly complained of a headache after the fight and was rushed to the hospital, where attempts to save her failed. Her death was ruled a homicide due to blunt force trauma to the head. Given that the perpetrator of this tragic death was a minor, it is unlikely she would face a civil lawsuit from the family of the victim.
“In cases in which minors cause harm to others, it is most often the parents who are held liable for the victim’s injury or the family’s loss,” explained a California personal injury lawyer.
California Civil Code Section 1714.1 addresses the civil liability of parents for acts perpetrated by their minor children. According to 1714.1(a):
"Any act of willful misconduct of a minor that results
in injury or death to another person or in any injury to the property
of another shall be imputed to the parent or guardian having custody
and control of the minor for all purposes of civil damages, and the
parent or guardian having custody and control shall be jointly and
severally liable with the minor for any damages resulting from the
willful misconduct." (Cal Civ. Code sect. 1714.1)
Under this rule, parents may be held financially responsible and forced to pay personal injury or wrongful death damages when their children intentionally cause harm. In this case, since the girl willfully got into a fight that led to the injury and death of the victim, her parents likely could be held civilly responsible in a wrongful death lawsuit.
The school district could also bear some legal responsibility for the death of Ramos as well. However, the fight took place in an alley near the school, rather than on school grounds, so it may be difficult if not impossible for the Ramos family to hold the school responsible. One possible argument that could be made in favor of imposing liability on the school is that a law in California dubbed "Seth's Law" mandates schools have clear and consistent guidelines for investigating bullying claims. If the fight was considered to be related to bullying and if the school was lax in fulfilling its obligations in preventing bullying, there is a chance that they may be found liable in a wrongful death action.
The strongest case for liability, however, will likely be against the parents of the girl involved in the fight under California laws imposing vicarious liability on parents of minors who intentionally cause harm.
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