In a recent case, the highest court in Massachusetts (Supreme Judicial Court) addressed the issue of a public school’s liability for negligently permitting bullying to occur, which resulted in a fourth-grade student becoming paralyzed after being pushed down a flight of stairs. The Court noted, “Bullying is a persistent, pernicious problem in our schools-it can cause emotional and, at times, physical harm.“ The allegations of the complaint alleged that both the student and the student’s mother had reported to the school before the bullying incident that the student was subject to constant bullying by a small group of students.
However, the Court affirmed dismissal of the complaint against the school and the municipality. Traditionally, municipalities were immune from tort liability. The legislature has permitted only limited liability under certain circumstances. In these circumstances, a municipality is not liable unless it has acted affirmatively to materially contribute to the specific condition or situation that resulted in the harm. While recognizing the significant problem of bullying, the Supreme Judicial Court simply held that the legislative exception to municipal immunity for tort claims did not permit the type of claim that was brought in this case.
The case is Cormier v. City of Lynn, Supreme Judicial Court, February 27, 2018.