The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has recently ruled a school district cannot be held financially liable for bullying that left a child paralyzed.  

The Supreme Judicial Court’s decision came in the case of Matthew Mumbauer. In 2008, Matthew was 11 years old and a student at the Brickett Elementary School in Lynn. A fellow student who allegedly (although court documents show Matthew had been repeatedly targeted) had been bullying him for years pushed him down a flight of stairs in 2008. As a direct result, Matthew was paralyzed for life. Matthew's family sued the city, school district and administrators, saying they were negligent in failing to act.

The Supreme Judicial Court stated in their opinion that they were not deciding whether or not the school was negligent for failing to act reasonably to prevent the bullying that led to Matthew’s injuries. The SJC accepted for the purpose of their limited review that the school was negligent but that their main concern was whether, under the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act, the public defendants (i.e. the city, school district and administrators) may be held liable for that negligence. 

The Massachusetts Tort Claims Act, establishes the procedure for asserting tort claims against municipalities. All claims for injury or loss of property or personal injury or death caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of any public employee while acting within the scope of their employment are subject to this Act. The Court focused its attention on Section 10(j) of the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act, which bars “any claim based on an act or failure to act to prevent or diminish the harmful consequences of a condition or situation, including the violent or tortious conduct of a third person, which is not originally caused by the public employer or any other person acting on behalf of the public employer.”

In short, the Court concluded that the act protects them from liability for such negligence. Justice Kimberly S. Budd writing for the court said in relevant part “These claims are barred by §10(j) because they originate from a failure to act rather than an affirmative act….”

Conclusion. There is no question that bullying is a serious issue. The tragedy that occurred in this case highlights the emotional pain of day-to-day harassment suffered by those who are bullied, as well as the horrific physical consequences that can result.[15]

In this case it appears, based upon the allegations of the complaint, that those working at the elementary school could have and should have done more to protect Matthew. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the Legislature has imposed restrictions on the act that exempt school districts from liability. See Whitney, 373 Mass. at 210 (“on the subject of sovereign immunity . . . barring any possible constitutional infirmities, the Legislature will have the final word”).
— Cormier, et al. v. City of Lynn, et al

To read the full case opinion please use this link:

If your child is experiencing difficulties with bullies, please contact Attorney Curran to see how we may be able to help you:

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Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549