This week's case asks two questions: 1. whether a school should be on the hook when a student is hurt by another student when the teacher leaves the room; and, 2. whether the parents of the bully can be held responsible for the classroom attack by their son.
The bell has resonated through the hallway. Students are talking and laughing in a classroom while shuffling to their seats. The teacher is out in the hallway.
Enter: Chris, a highschool junior; and John, his classmate.
The assault occurred in the classroom after the period bell rang, when Chris walked into the class and said to John, "You are fat." John punched Chris sending him into a cabinet shattering glass. The fight stopped when another student broke up the fight. The class teacher had been in the hallway speaking to another teacher when the fight took place.
The night before, Chris called John and told him that he was going to threaten his girlfriend with unflattering photographs. Chris then sent a message via Facebook to John's girlfriend to inform her of the discussion but learned that John was logged onto his girlfriend's Facebook account and read the message. John responded with a message to Chris, telling him that if he ever catches him talking about him, he would physically attack him. Chris and John continued their argument by exchanging text messages, insulting and threatening each other. At one point in the conversation, Chris called John "fat" and John responded by daring Chris to say that to his face. Chris sent a message saying that John would not have the courage to lay a hand on him.
Back to School the Next Day
The physical fight lasted 20 seconds, Chris was injured. Chris’s parents sued John, John’s parents, and the school for injuries.
Here is what the court did: The case WAS dismissed against John’s parents: Although parents can be held responsible for their child’s wrong-doing if they negligently failed to restrain the child from committing a vicious act, or if they had knowledge that the child had a propensity to engage in violent or vicious conduct, in this case there was no evidence of John’s violent nature. The parents are off the hook.
The case was NOT dismissed against the school: Chris’s parents cannot recover for negligent supervision because Chris was possibly a voluntary participant in the fight, and liability for injuries resulting from a fight between two students cannot be based on negligent supervision if the plaintiff was a participant in the fight.
The case will go to a jury to determine if Chris was a participant. If the jury finds that Chris was a participant, then the school is off the hook. If the jury finds that Chris was not a participant, they will have to pay out a serious amount of money to Chris and his family.