Bullies: How Does Insurance Respond to the Aggressor?
Bullying has been a hot topic over the past year or two, with countless public service announcements and celebrities shining a light on this epidemic. Bullying has, until recently, been viewed by many as a part of growing up. Nowadays, the crackdown is much more severe, and rightfully so. We have all heard the stories of bullied young men and women who have taken their lives due to the shame and self-hatred caused (at least in part) by their daily tormentors. So what happens if your son or daughter is the bully, and you are sued by the victim’s family?
Homeowner’s policies contain liability coverage which will pay out for legal fees as well as any judgments assessed if a lawsuit is lost and you are found liable for bodily injury caused to another. At first glance it would appear you have coverage for this situation, right? Not necessarily. The policy clearly excludes coverage for bodily injury or property damage that is expected or intended by the insured. So, in order for the homeowner’s policy to pay out damages to the victim’s family, it would have to be proven that the bully did not expect or intend to injure the other party. That is going to be an uphill battle in most cases, considering the nature of the issue at hand. This is not to say it is impossible and coverage would never apply, each situation is different and should be viewed as such.
Does coverage apply if there was no bodily injury or property damage to the victim, just the mental abuse rained down on the victim day after day such as taunts, verbal harassment, or other mean-spirited acts that do not physically injure the victim but instead weigh on their mental state of being? This could also be excluded in the homeowner’s policy. In the policy language of the ISO Form HO 00 03 0491 it specifically excludes any injury “arising out of sexual molestation, corporal punishment or mental abuse.”
In today’s social media-friendly society, we must also look at the way some use these platforms to degrade others. Falsely accusing someone of an act that will reflect poorly on them in a public setting such as Facebook of Twitter is libel or slander. Some policies, if they carry the personal injury endorsement, can cover such acts. Personal injury covers libel, slander, defamation of character, invasion of privacy, among other things. So if the bully takes to the social media stratosphere with false information about the victim and the victim’s family sues, there is a way for this to be covered under the policy.
The long and short of this is that bullying is an awful act and the punishments are now severe. In a lot of cases you cannot hide behind your insurance policy to prevent potential financial ruin. It is best to talk to your family about bullying, the damage it causes, as well as how to handle a bully to prevent further attacks.