Can I Sue the Parents of My Child’s Bully?

Can I sue the parents of Child's bully blog from Henderson LawAs a parent, one of the most devastating and challenging moments is learning your child is being bullied. Your first instinct is likely to seek to hold those responsible accountable for their actions.  Most often, the bully is a minor child themselves, so you start to ask yourself, Can I sue a child’s parents for bullying? or, Can you sue a school for bullying? These are all valid questions, and while every case is unique, the answer is you may be able to sue a child’s parents or the school for bullying.

Can I Sue a Child’s Parents for Bullying?

Most often, the child bully is just that: a child. As minors, though, their parents are generally responsible for their behavior. As a result, under certain circumstances, you can sue the bully’s parents. 

Generally, to sue your child’s bully’s parents, you need to be able to demonstrate the adult’s negligence. Typically, a parent is negligent if they were aware of their child’s bullying behavior and did nothing to prevent it. A parent or guardian can be liable if they:

  • Directly contributed to or encouraged the bullying behavior,
  • Did nothing to prevent physical harm to your child,
  • Knew about their child’s past bullying behavior, and
  • They could have reasonably foreseen their child’s propensity for violence.

The younger the bully is, the more likely their parents can be held accountable. 

California Parental Responsibility Laws

In California, a parent can be liable for the willful misconduct of their minor children. Willful misconduct is considered an action beyond mere negligence and generally requires intent. Specifically, a parent may be liable for an injury or death caused by their minor child if:

  • The parent or guardian’s negligence enabled their child to cause the injury, and
  • The parent or guardian’s negligence made it probable that their child would act that way.

The child’s parent or guardian may be held jointly liable with the minor for the minor’s willful misconduct for up to $25,000 in economic damages (e.g., medical bills) for each wrongful act. 

The $25,000 does not include compensation for noneconomic damages like pain, suffering, emotional distress, or mental anguish.

In addition to civil liability, parents or guardians may be held criminally liable for their children’s actions. Parents and guardians must exercise reasonable care, supervision, protection, and control over their children. Failing to do so can lead to misdemeanor criminal charges. 

Forms of Bullying

Unfortunately, in 2024, bullying goes far beyond the playground or hallways. With most teens and even pre-teens having access to cellphones and social media, bullying does not just stay at school but instead follows kids home via digital threads.

Bullying can take many forms, including:

  • Physical bullying—physical violence including hitting, shoving, kicking, punching, biting, trippings, hair-pulling, and any other form of physical altercation. 
  • Verbal bullying—threats of violence, name-calling, teasing, and other forms of verbal abuse.  
  • Cyberbullying—using electronic means to bully someone, typically through text messages, social media messages and comments, email, or any other form of electronic communication. 
  • Social bullying—social bullying will typically use other forms of bullying (e.g., cyber, verbal) to alienate a schoolmate from groups by embarrassing them in a crowd, spreading rumors or lies, isolating them, or using other public forms of humiliation to isolate them from their peers.
  • Sexual abuse and bullying—any bullying, whether online or in-person, that involves unwanted sexual comments or physical touching can constitute sexual bullying. 

Often, many forms of bullying overlap. For instance, a bully may physically and verbally attack your child.

Consequences of Bullying

Any form of bullying can have serious consequences for the victim that can extend far beyond those teen years. 

Victims can suffer physical, mental, and emotional harm, including:

  • Bruises,
  • Fractures,
  • Lacerations,
  • Depression,
  • Anxiety, 
  • Low self-esteem, and
  • Suicidal thoughts, 

As parents, understanding the difference between normal adolescent behavior and mood swings and injuries from bullying can be crucial in protecting your child. 

Recognizing red flags that may be signs of bullying can help prevent further harm to your child.  Some standard warning signs your child may be bullied at school include:

  • Sudden dread of going to school,
  • Avoiding school activities,
  • Trouble sleeping,
  • Isolating themselves,
  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Physical ailments such as upset stomach or headaches,
  • Extreme mood swings,
  • Sudden aggression,
  • Self-harming behaviors,
  • Decline in academic achievement,
  • Unexplained injuries, and
  • Damage to their personal belongings.

Being on the lookout for any of these signs and immediately notifying the school administrators, principal, teachers, other children’s parents, the police, and anyone else involved can help prevent tragedy and put potentially involved parties on notice.

Can You Sue a School for Bullying?

Yes, you can sue a school for bullying under certain circumstances. However, the ability to sue a school for bullying also depends on the type of school. There are different standards for public and private schools. 

Many public schools are immune from civil lawsuits because of government immunity. However, under certain circumstances, you can still sue the school. If you want to pursue a lawsuit against your child’s public school in California civil court, you must follow the California Tort Claims Act, which sets forth specific requirements for filing a personal injury lawsuit against the government, including school districts and their employees. 

Taking on your child’s school is complex, challenging, and technical, and it often requires swift action due to shorter filing timeframes. If you believe your child’s school failed to adequately protect your child and prevent bullying, you need a sharp advocate. Let us help you get the justice you and your child deserve. 

If your child attends private school, you are typically not required to follow the California Tort Claims Act, but you must still be able to prove the school was negligent.

Seth’s Law

Seth’s Law is anti-bullying legislation in California that helps protect all public school students. Specifically, if school personnel witness an act of discrimination, harassment, intimidation, or bullying, they must take immediate steps to intervene when it is safe to do so. Furthermore, under Seth’s Law, schools and school districts must adhere to specific processes for handling bullying complaints.

Henderson Law: Holding Bullies Accountable

As members of the American Association of Justice, we believe in seeking not just compensation for our clients but justice. If your child is the victim of bullying, let’s work together to hold the responsible parties liable. Contact us for a confidential, compassionate consultation and learn what the Henderson Law team can do for you.