Public liability bullying claim settles for two million dollars

PUBLISHED 24 Jul 2014

Our client’s mother wanted to be compensated for a negligence claim, and wanted her matter to be settled as soon as possible. She wanted, more than anything, a just, quick and cheap resolution of the matter, so that she would be able to move on with her life as soon as possible. They needed a legal team that was dedicated, passionate and experienced in negligence claims, as the issue was something which seriously affected all of their lives in a negative way. Our client was aware that Gerard Malouf and Partners has a reputation of obtaining the best possible outcome for our clients, which is why they approached us. Her case was assigned to Christine Beshay, one of our senior solicitors work practices in negligence claims. Our client was constantly impressed by the work of Ms Beshay throughout the duration of her claim. From the beginning right until the very end of the claim, Ms Beshay did everything in her power to keep the claim moving, and to ensure that our client was aware of how the case was progressing.

Our client, a special needs child who has cerebral palsy, was enrolled as a student at a local government high school. During the period February 2009 to July 2010 and in the course of her attendances at the school, the plaintiff was repeatedly bullied, harassed, assaulted and intimidated by another child enrolled at the school (‘the assailant’). As a result of this constant bullying, our client suffered injury. Her pre-existing condition of cerebral palsy was severely aggravated, and she developed an anxiety disorder. Further, our client developed obsessive compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. Our client wanted to obtain compensation from the school and its employees and agents for negligence.

Prior to drafting any pleadings, Ms Beshay obtained the relevant medical reports of our client. Ms Beshay also organised for our client to see an expert doctor, so that we could obtain a liability report to understand the duty of care a school has to their students/ Further, we requested the school’s guidelines and procedures in relation to handling bullying in and outside the school grounds. Ms Beshay needed to ensure that the matter had reasonable prospects of success, as she did not want to waste the client’s time and resources. We obtained a liability report, which revealed that the defendant had breached its duty to our client by failing to adequately discipline the assailant, failing to properly educate the plaintiff about means of copying with the bullying and failing to act on incidents of bullying, amongst other things.

Thereafter, we sent a letter of demand to the NSW Department of Education and Training, advising them of the situation. We made it clear to the defendants that we were willing to consider alternative dispute resolution, as we wanted the matter to be resolved as quickly and as amicably as possible.

We then lodged a Statement of Claim alleging that the supervision provided by the school authorities do the plaintiff were inadequate and ineffective, not satisfying the standards of usual industry practice nor of normal professional criteria. There were also breaches of standard professional expectations in the investigation, control and prevention of student misbehaviour, and repeated multiple failures by school personnel to comply with mandatory directors and guidelines laid down by the employing authority. Although the defendant’s agents had been directly alerted, as a result of a series of complaints by the plaintiff herself, no adequate ongoing managerial steps were taken to ensure her welfare and safety, and there were insufficient investigation, intervention and prevention of continued harassment and bullying.

In response, the defendants submitted that they did not admit to a breach of duty. They also submitted in the alternative that the element of causation had not been satisfied, as the injuries suffered by the plaintiff was not caused by the negligence of the defendant. The defendant submitted that it acted in a manner that was widely accepted in Australia by peer professional opinion as competent professional practice.

As the claim progressed, Ms Beshay continued to build the strength of our client’s claim by obtaining medico-legal reports from various psychologists and occupational therapists .

Eventually the defendant agreed to partake in a mediation. In relation to damages, our client’s position was complicated by the fact that prior to the bullying, our client was likely to need some sort of ongoing assistance in any event, and it was doubtful that she would have been able to engage in an open workplace environment. It was also difficult to estimate what additional care had been imposed by the bullying, as our client, being somewhat intellectually disabled, probably needed care in any event. However, after some considerable discussion the matter was resolved in the sum of $2,000,000.00 plus costs.

Our client and her family were extremely happy with the outcome. They were grateful that the matter was dealt with by an experienced solicitor, and that the matter ran smoothly. More than anything, they were eager to move on with their lives, and they were able to do so with the compensation that they had received.

We are a highly focused and specialized law firm being small enough to care, yet large enough to have solid financial, medical and expert resources to match the big defendants and insurance firms. Our “no win no fee’’ arrangements and written guarantee to reduce fees in the unlikely event of a poor result is unmatched in the legal industry Australia-wide

Call us now on 1800 004 878 to book a free appointment with one of my compensation experts, or email your enquiry.