Parents of bullied boy win record payout

2nd February 2001 at 00:00

Michael Fitzpatrick reports on a landmark ruling in which a school was blamed for a teenager's suicide

parents of a bullied boy who hanged himself have won record damages from the local education authority.

A court in the city of Yokohama has ordered the authority to pay out an unprecedented 39.5 million yen (pound;232,000) to parents of the boy who killed himself in 1994. Nine former students of a junior high school in nearby Tsukui have also been ordered to pay pound;12,000.

The parents of the dead 14-year-old, Yo, had originally demanded double the amount in compensation from the bullies' parents and the local authority responsible for his school.

According to a Kyodo news agency report, Judge Ryoichi Ikeda recognised a causal relationship between the suicide and the bullying and said: "The school could have foreseen that, if it did nothing about the bullying, it could cause the boy to kill himself."

This was a landmark decision in Japan because for the first time a court concluded that it was possible for the school to predict that the bullying would end with serious consequences. About 339 students committed suicide last year, largely because they were being bullied by classmates.

Two previous similar trials had recognised a causal relationship between Yo's suicide and the bullying but ruled that the schools could not predict such serious results. Therefore, the caes were "accidental" or "unintentional", although the schools did not stop the bullying.

However, at the Yokohama trial, the court declared that the school could have predicted such serious results, but had failed properly to deal with the bullying. The court ordered the payment as compensation.

This will open the door to a flood of lawsuits for damages in bullying cases, said education specialists. Last week, a father of a viciously bullied boy was awarded pound;42,000 by the Chiba court, near Tokyo, who said the boy's school was negligent. The child survived the ordeal. The fathers of four of the bullies and the education authority were ordered to pay the damages.

Sources at the court suggested the parents were unlikely to appeal against the decision. Professor Michio Nitta, an education expert at the Institute of Social Science University of Tokyo, said that the trend should worry local authorities and schools.

"So far, the courts have been slow, expensive instruments in solving this kind of issue," he said. "But, if the current programmes for judicial reform result in a tripling of the number of lawyers, as proposed, it may inflict a much bigger burden on public organisations."

A spate of civil actions by parents against school authorities and alleged victimisation in the past decade have highlighted the view that schools are not doing enough to discourage bullying.

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