Can I Sue My School for Emotional Distress?
Bill Allen | December 22, 2023 | Personal Injury
Schools must take reasonable responsibility to ensure a tolerable study environment for their students. This responsibility is greater if the students are children, of course.
Even if you are an adult, however, the school bears some responsibility, especially if the perpetrator of the emotional distress is a school employee. As an adult, you can even sue for emotional distress on behalf of a child if the court appoints you guardian ad litem.
Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
In Florida, “intentional infliction of emotional distress” is a civil offense justifying monetary damages. To win your claim, you must prove the following facts:
- The defendant intentionally or recklessly inflicted emotional distress upon you;
- The defendant’s conduction was outrageous;
- The conduct was the cause of your emotional distress; and
- Your emotional distress was severe.
You must prove all of these facts on a “more likely than not” (at least 51% likelihood) basis.
School Employees and Vicarious Liability
If a school employee has been inflicting emotional distress on you, whether you can sue the school itself depends on whether the school employee was acting within the scope of their employment at the time the abuse that triggered the distress occurred.
If a teacher has been abusing you in class, for example, you probably do have grounds to sue the school. It is best if you can show physical symptoms to verify your emotional distress.
Even if the school itself was not directly responsible, as an employer, your school is vicariously liable for the misconduct of its employees acting within the scope of their employment. That means you can sue the teacher, the school, or both.
Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress
“Negligent infliction of emotional distress” is also a civil offense in Florida, and it also justifies monetary damages. You must prove the following facts to win your claim against the perpetrator:
- You suffered a physical injury;
- Your physical injury must have been caused by psychological trauma (PTSD, for example);
- You must have been involved in an event that caused a negligent injury to another person; and
- You must have had a close personal relationship with the directly injured person.
This state of affairs is unlikely to occur in a setting in which your school was responsible. To concoct a scenario, however, suppose that a school negligently allowed a gas pipe to explode, seriously injuring or killing your friend, and you were a bystander to the explosion.
If, as a consequence of the explosion, you suffered emotional distress so severe that it manifested itself in physical symptoms, you could sue the school for negligently maintaining the gas pipe.
Bullying and Civil Rights Violations
If your school allows you to be subjected to bullying, you might be able to win a lawsuit against the school using federal statutes such as:
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (discrimination based on color, national origin, or race).
- Title II of the Americans the Disabilities Act of 1990 (discrimination based on disability).
- Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (sex discrimination)
If you were subjected to a hostile environment under any of the foregoing laws, the school might bear liability for civil rights violations for allowing it to happen.
Suing the Government: Public Schools vs. Private Schools
Civil rights laws impose liability upon government entities for participating in or passively allowing discrimination. There is an obstacle to a lawsuit, however. Ultimately, the Florida state government operates public schools statewide. Because taxpayers fund public schools, special restrictions apply to suing the government. These restrictions are found in the Florida Tort Claims Act
So, can you sue a private school for discrimination? Yes, under the right circumstances. On the bright side, you are not bound by the restrictions contained in the Florida Tort Claims Act. Nevertheless, because school employees are not government employees, the school has more leeway in their behavior than a public school does.
If the school accepts federal funding, even if it is a private school, you can sue them based on the civil rights statutes listed above. If the school does not accept federal funding, your legal options are more limited. That doesn’t mean there is nothing you can do–it just means you need to talk to a lawyer.
Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer Today
The foregoing discussion represents only the tip of the iceberg of the complexity involved in filing an emotional distress claim against a school. Don’t even think about trying to represent yourself for a claim like this. Contact a Florida personal injury lawyer instead.
Contact Our Gainesville Personal Injury Law Firm in North Central Florida
We have three convenient locations in North Central Florida: