Cyber Bullying, Your Liability & Massachusetts Insurance

It’s likely that at some point in our lives we have all either been the victim or witnessed firsthand an act of bullying. Back, before there were computers, Smart Phones and a plethora of social networks, bullies operated by instilling fear or shame in their targets. Perhaps you were shoved into your locker while walking through a crowded hall or maybe you watched on as the quiet kid from science class was teased for being a “four-eyes”. For whatever reason, bullying still occurs – however in today’s society it has gotten much more high-tech.

Cyber bullying commonly refers to any sort of teasing, harassment, threats or humiliation a child or teenager experiences via digital technology. The media has been apt to shed light on cyber bullying, covering stories ranging from teens tormented through instant messaging chats to children being harassed through social networks, such as the ominous MySpace. With cyber bulling on the rise and the risks associated with bullying potentially life threatening, many states and local governments are being to act.

Massachusetts has an “anti-cyber bullying” law which defines cyber bullying as:

“Bullying through the use of technology or any electronic communication, which shall include, but shall not be limited to, any transfer of signs, signals, writing, images, sounds, data or intelligence of any nature transmitted in whole or in part by a wire, radio, electromagnetic, photo electronic or photo optical system, including, but not limited to, electronic mail, internet communications, instant messages or facsimile communications…”

Cyber bullying can take on a variety of forms including:

Sending negative messages or threats to an individual’s email account or cell phone (also referred to as cyber stalking)
Spreading rumors online or through text messages
Posting negative or threatening messages on social networking sites
Acts of impersonation, such as stealing a person’s account info, breaking into their account and sending damaging messages
And more…
Overall, cyber bullying can have a devastating effect on victimized, as well as their loved ones. Many adolescents suffer severe depression, anxiety and in the worst of cases, resort to suicide. With such damaging effects and risk involved, who is held responsible?

Actually, as a parent and homeowner – you may be.

Let’s say your child partakes in cyber bulling and is harassing another student via Facebook. Your child sends hurtful messages to the student daily through the social networking platform and even makes public comments on the student’s Facebook wall. After weeks of humiliation, the student becomes almost completely withdrawn, on edge and appears severely depressed. The student’s grade’s slip, they begin skipping class and even become physical ill from the stress. You very well may be held responsible for your child’s initial actions.

There certainly is much more that goes into determining fault and liability, but it’s important to recognize that a good lawyer sues everybody, As the parent and homeowner, it’s likely you could face a lawsuit for alleged negligent supervision or explicit parental responsibility in addition to your child who perpetrates the act.

Even if you are innocent, the cost of an attorney often runs in to the tens of thousands of dollars. Who will pay to defend you and your child? And if you or your child should be held responsible will your Massachusetts insurance policy pay the claim?

At Wolpert Insurance we can help design the Massachusetts insurance coverage needed to protect your liability.