Tort Law

Schoolyard Bully Costs FL School $4M

In a verdict that should serve as a warning to school administrators elsewhere, a Florida jury has ordered a private school to pay $4 million to a 12-year-old whose arm was broken by a school bully.

The incident has left the now 16-year-old victim with a permanent injury that prevents him from playing tennis well (he was formerly a nationally ranked junior player) and precludes him from following his parents into a career as a surgeon, reports the St. Petersburg Times.

The newspaper says the incident at Hillel School of Tampa followed complaints to the school by the boy’s parents that he was being targeted by a 7th-grade school bully. A Hillsborough County jury then had to decide whether the injuries resulted from ordinary roughhousing or inadequate supervision by the school. A supervising teacher reportedly had just gone inside the school building on Jan. 29, 2004, according to the lawsuit, when the boy about whom Danny Heidenberg’s parents had complained to the school threw a football at the fellow 7th grader and tackled him.

“Danny tried to get up,” the article recounts. “The bully jumped him, breaking two bones in his left arm.”

His mother tells the newspaper that the lawsuit—which didn’t name the bully as a defendant—was about “accountability and moral justice,” rather than money.

“Schools have to wake up to the point that bullying is serious and supervision is serious,” says David Tirella, an attorney at Cohen, Jayson & Foster who brought suit for the family. “They allowed a bully to escalate.”

Earlier he told the newspaper, “They should have taken it seriously. It [sh]ould not have been allowed to escalate from verbal taunts to an attack.”

The school declined to comment.

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