The family of a 12-year-old boy in Harlem who committed suicide, allegedly because of school bullying, is suing the accused bullies along with New York City's public school system.
Joel Morales hanged himself last year after two years of unrelenting bullying, his mother Lisbeth Babilonia claims. She believes Joel was targeted because he was small and sometimes stuttered.
Babilonia has filed suit against the city, NYC's Department of Education, the alleged teen bullies, and their parents.
Babilonia's lawsuit is a wrongful death claim. To succeed, she must demonstrate that her son died either because the school and teens intended to cause harm or were negligent.
Since schools deal with so many children, parents are advised to report bullying incidents to the school. Typically, schools take action to ensure student safety as they have a duty to rescue students in their care.
In her suit, Babilonia claims she complained to school officials multiple times each week, but the physical and emotional abuse continued relentlessly, reports the New York Daily News.
Ultimately, school officials held a meeting with the bullies' parents, but it only made matters worse. The bullies allegedly snuck into Joel's home and beat him with pipes, and even followed him after he transferred to a different school.
To succeed in her claim, Babilonia will have to show that the bullying is what ultimately led to Joel's suicide. In a negligence case, there must be a causal connection between the defendant's conduct and the resulting harm.
Here, the connection is arguably strong. As the harassment escalated, Joel's family filed a complaint with the NYPD and he was transferred to another school, but his bullies went so far as to follow him after school. Soon after, he hanged himself.
It remains to be seen whether the school's actions were sufficient, or whether they knew or should have known that more disciplinary actions were necessary.
Nearly every state has anti-bullying statutes that require schools to have and enforce policies against bullying. Failure to do so can result in legal consequences for the school.
If the school failed to comply with New York's anti-bullying laws, or had bullying policies in place but failed to enforce them even though Joel was being harassed for two years straight, then the district could potentially be found liable.
New York City's Law Department, which handles litigation against the city, declined to comment to the Daily News.