Can a Mother Sue Her Daughter’s Bullies for Wrongful Death?

A Florida mom is suing the bullies whose actions she says led to her daughter’s death.

Rebecca Sedwick was 12 years old when two of her classmates pushed her too far. After enduring endless bullying, she climbed a tower at an abandoned concrete factory and threw herself to her death.

Now her mom, Tricia Norman, has filed a lawsuit against the two girls’ families. She says that the bullies’ actions caused Rebecca’s death. But will she win?

It’s hard to say. This type of case is known as a wrongful death case, and normally the family of the deceased can indeed recover compensation from those responsible for the death. But for a case to succeed there has to be evidence that someone’s actions—in this case, the bullies’—directly caused the death. Compensation may include money to help pay for funeral expenses and emotional suffering for the loss of a child. Perhaps most importantly it represents a chance to see the guilty party pay for their actions.

But that may not apply to bullies. Bullying lawsuits are on the rise, but there are a number of factors that make them hard to win:

  • They are new: Bullying makes headlines, but this is a relatively recent level of awareness for the American public. For generations, bullying was seen as a normal part of growing up and many people still hold that view today.
  • It’s not always illegal: Strictly speaking, a wrongful death case can succeed even if no crime was committed. But when the responsible party’s actions are legal, it becomes harder to show that they acted in a negligent manner.
  • It’s hard to sue minors: Parents are responsible for their children’s actions, and families can be sued over the actions of minors. However, it can be hard to convince a jury that young children are dangerous or that their parents could have prevented their actions.
  • Evidence is tricky: These days, a great deal of bullying involves “cyber bullying” where kids harass other kids online. Cyber harassment is itself an emerging area of law and it can be hard to gather compelling evidence for a courtroom.
  • Direct connection: The most important part of wrongful death case is to show a direct causal connection between one party’s actions and another party’s death. It can be hard to prove that a child committed suicide because of a bully. The trial will involve uncomfortable questions about the victim’s mental health and the family’s parenting ability.

Only time will tell whether Ms. Norman’s case will conclude in her favor. If it does, it will be an important precedent that could help other parents pursue justice in their own cases.

Is your child being bullied, harassed or abused? If so, we may be able to help you. The lawyers of Steinger, Greene & Feiner are dedicated to helping victims of bullying and abuse. Talk to us for free today.