Jon Timothy and Tami Carmichael of Cleburne, Texas, are convinced their 13-year-old son Jon's suicide in March 2010 was the result of daily bullying by peers and the lack of action taken by school officials.
The Carmichaels' $20 million federal lawsuit against the Joshua Independent School District ? filed in Dallas on March 28, the one-year anniversary of Jon's death ? is one of a growing number of civil court actions being taken against schools for allegedly ignoring bullying.
Bullying lawsuits are on the rise nationwide, says Francisco Negron, general counsel for the National School Boards Association. There are no studies the association knows of, he says, but "anecdotal evidence shows an obvious increase."
The lawsuits are increasing for several reasons, including increased awareness, new standards and more experts in the legal community, says David Finkelhor, director of the University of New Hampshire's Crimes Against Children Research Center.
"People are more likely to know about bullying and feel that they have to report it," he says.
Carmichael family attorney Martin J. Cirkielsays he has processed 60 to 70 cases about bullying in the past two years.
"Every single parent comes to us for the same reason," he says. "They want to make sure what happened to their child doesn't happen to someone else."