Suing a School for Death by Suicide

Losing a child isn't easy for any parent. When your child's death was by suicide, it may leave you with more painful questions than answers. If you discover that your child's experiences at their school may have had something to do with their death, it can be all the more distressing. Schools are supposed to protect children and keep them safe when they're not in your care.

When a school neglects its duty to protect your child, and the unthinkable happens, you may be able to seek justice and compensation for your loss by filing a lawsuit for wrongful death against the school.

Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit for a Student Suicide

When a student dies on a school campus, at a school-related event, or as a result of matters related to school, parents may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the school. If parents believe that a student's suicide was caused by bullying at school or actions taken by the school, they may have a case for a wrongful death suit.

A wrongful death lawsuit argues that the death of one person occurred because of the negligence of another person. These types of lawsuits are more common when the parties are two individuals, but it is possible for an institution, such as a school, to be responsible for wrongful death as well. As a parent, you may have the option to bring a lawsuit against a school following your child's suicide, whether it was a K-12 school, college, university, or other educational institution.

A wrongful death suicide claim must involve the following four elements:

  1. The student's death was caused by the school.
  2. The school was negligent.
  3. The student who died by suicide has a surviving applicable family member who can file a lawsuit and seek damages on the student's behalf
  4. There have been monetary damages as a result of the student's death.

In your state, the criteria for filing a wrongful death suit might differ slightly. An attorney with experience in education matters and litigating against schools nationwide can help you with filing your lawsuit and ensuring you meet the proper criteria.

When to File a Lawsuit Against a School

Schools have a responsibility to supervise and protect students who are under their care, especially schools that children under 18 years of age attend. If a school neglects a student's safety and well-being and it leads to death by suicide, the student's parents may have a credible lawsuit against the school. If you believe your child's suicide was caused by the school's negligence or actions, you may consider filing a wrongful death lawsuit.

Suicide Caused by Bullying

School bullying is one of the main causes of emotional distress and suicides among students today. Over the last several years, many parents have attempted to hold the school responsible for the death of their children, usually arguing that the school did not intervene properly when their children were being bullied.

  • A family in Utah sued a school for the death by suicide of their daughter, who was a fifth-grader being bullied over her race and disabilities.
  • The parents of a 15-year-old boy who died by suicide in Chicago sued the boy's former school for $100 million.
  • The parents of an 8-year-old boy who died by suicide after persistent bullying were allowed to move forward with a lawsuit against the Cincinnati school district for the boy's wrongful death.

As these cases show, parents do have the possibility to hold schools responsible when their child's death by suicide was the result of bullying. They allege that the school failed to provide a safe environment for the students or to intervene when the school knew the bullying was taking place.

Bullying by other students may not always be the cause of a student's suicide. The school may also create conditions that lead to emotional distress among students. One example is the case of a 17-year-old boy who died by suicide after being expelled and placed in “solitary confinement” at an elite New York boarding school for cheating on a math assignment. You can read our guide about schools creating adverse conditions for students that can lead to death by suicide.

There can be many causes for suicide among young people, such as substance abuse problems, impulsive behavior, the death of a friend or parent, or mental and physical abuse. In some cases, experiences at school can exacerbate or be a trigger for these issues, which would make the school responsible for the student's death.

Do You Have Options Before Filing a Lawsuit?

Filing a lawsuit against a school is a big undertaking. Most schools, including K-12 public schools as well as colleges and universities, have legal teams whose job is to handle such litigation. You should weigh your options and consider the situation carefully before you decide to bring a lawsuit for wrongful death against a school.

If you speak to an attorney with experience litigating against schools, you can better determine what these options are and which is the best for you. It's also important to exhaust all these options before pursuing a lawsuit to demonstrate that you did everything you could to avoid taking legal action.

The options you have before filing a lawsuit against a school are:

  1. Speaking to a legal advisor in education issues. The first move you make should be to contact an attorney who has dealt with educational institutions before. They'll have a clear understanding of the situation and can anticipate how the school's administration might handle your lawsuit. When you negotiate with the school's legal team, your lawyer can also negotiate on your behalf.
  2. Go through the complaint process. Most schools have a grievance or formal complaint procedure. You can use this process to submit a complaint about your child's wrongful death. The school administration or district is more likely to take your request seriously and may be open to negotiating with you after you submit a formal complaint. You may also be able to find a resolution at this point and avoid suing the school altogether.
  3. Submit an appeal. If the complaint process didn't yield the result you wanted, your next step is to submit an appeal of the school's decision. Most formal grievance processes will include an appeal procedure. Your request can then be reviewed by another board or school official. An appeal is usually the final step you can take before filing a lawsuit against the school.

If you go through the above three steps and still don't reach a resolution, the next option left for you is to take legal action against your school. Although you technically don't need assistance from an attorney to go through a school's grievance procedure, it helps to have one that you can consult with.

How to Prepare