A July CNN report has brought to light a lawsuit filed against Louisiana school officials for repeatedly handcuffing and shackling a 6 year old. The lawsuit has been filed by rights advocates and the child’s parents on behalf of children in the Louisiana Recovery School District, a statewide entity managed by the Louisiana Department of Education. The superintendent of the district, and school officials and security officers at the school, Sarah T. Reed Elementary, were named in the lawsuit as well.
According to the suit, the 6 year old boy was handcuffed and shackled for “minor offenses,” involving a shoving match with another student. The School District stands behind the behavior of their employees and has indicated that the incident was an isolated one. They did not arrest the student or terminate the employee involved. The school principal, Daphyne Burnette also defended the school’s action, going so far as to state that it is school policy to handcuff “out of control” students, and that if children fail to follow rules in the future, they will be handcuffed. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit disagree with this policy and have argued that the punishment methods crossed the line and that the conduct was “unreasonable and excessively intrusive.”
The child’s father, Sebastian Weston, claims that his son’s life has been forever changed because of the incident.
What do you do if your child is somehow hurt by overzealous school officials? And what if the damage is not physical? Can you recover damages for emotional harm caused to your child at school? If there was intentional conduct on the part of the school or official and the conduct resulted in extreme emotional distress, the answer is yes.
Intentional Infliction of Emotional (or mental) distress is a tort claim that allows for recovery of damages if a defendant:
1. Acted intentionally or recklessly;
2. The conduct was extreme or outrageous;
3. The action was the cause of distress to the injured party;
4. The emotional distress was severe.
The intent of the act does not need to be to bring about emotional distress to qualify. For example, here, if school officials did not intend to cause the child severe emotional distress but had reckless disregard for the likelihood that such conduct could cause emotional distress that is sufficient.
The conduct also needs to be extreme and outrageous, which means that it goes beyond the standards of civilized society. Illegality of the conduct is irrelevant. Here, it may be legal for school officials to handcuff a child to a chair under corporal punishment laws. However, most would agree that to handcuff and shackle a 6 year old for failing to follow directions is heinous conduct that is intolerable in civilized society. Courts look at several factors to determine if the extreme and outrageous standard was met, several of which could easily apply in this case, including: whether there was a pattern of conduct, whether the plaintiff was vulnerable and the defendant was aware of that fact, whether the defendant was in a position of power.
Finally, the emotional distress suffered must be severe. The severity is quantified by the intensity, duration, and physical manifestations of the distress. Calling an expert witness or professional psychiatrist would be very helpful in this type of claim to prove the severity of the emotional duress since physical manifestations are sometimes difficult to pinpoint.
If you or your child has suffered severe emotional distress due to someone else’s extreme or outrageous conduct you may have a claim for damages. Because the claim requires proving such subjective elements as “extreme conduct” and “severe emotional damages”, having an experienced attorney on your side who will do the leg work to collect all necessary background information and ensure the best experts will testify on your behalf is absolutely necessary.
Give our firm a call and one of our attorneys will be happy to speak with you about this matter and any case with similar circumstances.