Prior to April 2015, Colorado did not identify cyberbullying in state harassment laws. It was only after Douglas County high school student Kiana Arellano attempted suicide in 2013 that the state Legislature created a bill that criminalized cyberbullying in Colorado.
House Bill 1072, known as Kiana Arellano’s Law, makes it illegal for a person to harass another using various “interactive electronic devices” or on social media sites like Facebook and Instagram. This behavior is a criminal misdemeanor punishable by up to $750 and six months in jail.
More recently, the Claire Davis Act, named after a Colorado teen who was shot and killed at school in 2013, amended the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act, effectively dismantling governmental immunity for schools that fail to exercise “reasonable care” in guarding against incidents of violence at school.
Monitoring and punishing student harassment or cyberbullying has historically been the responsibility of schools and parents, not the courts. But in recent years, several cases of online teen harassment and suicide have spurred parents, school administrators, and legislators into action.
Colorado Cyberbullying Laws
Parents should know that in addition to criminal charges, offenders, parents and/or legal guardians (and now school districts) can be held responsible for “serious bodily injury” of a student.
For example, the Claire Davis Act says schools may be liable for up to $350,000 for any injury to one person in any single occurrence and $900,000 for an injury to two or more persons in any single occurrence. The school must prove they took proper and necessary steps to prevent violent acts.
Parents of teen perpetrators may also be held liable in cases that don’t meet specific criteria in school liability claims.
In some cases in which cyberbullying occurs at home or off-campus, courts have denied liability claims against the school but permitted them against the parents of the offender. These cases usually involve common tort claims like harassment, defamation, libel, or intentional infliction of emotional distress. These types of claims can be filed and pursued with the help of an experienced Colorado personal injury attorney.
If you or your child is a victim of cyberbullying or online harassment in Colorado, call local law enforcement and report the crime immediately.
Instances of cyberbullying or online harassment are extremely complicated, and defensive actions may be slowed by various legal obstacles. Even with the aid of police and support from the school, some cyberbullying cases may require further legal action.
It may be necessary, for example, to work with an attorney to obtain a court order restraining the cyberbullying or other dangerous behavior. Victims may also consider filing negligence per se charges against the offender. Negligence per se is an act that is considered negligent because it violates a state statute or regulation explicitly (e.g. Kiana Arellano’s Law or the Claire Davis Act).
Colorado victims can sue offenders, parents, or legal guardians in civil lawsuits for damages including medical bills and emotional distress. Moreover, if a school knows a student is victimizing others and takes no action, the school may be held liable for damages as well.
These cases are complicated. If you or your child is being bullied online, contact the Denver injury attorneys at The Frickey Law Firm for a free consultation to help you understand your options.
How to Protect Children from Cyberbullying in Colorado
One of the best things a parent or guardian can do to prevent cyberbullying is to detect the signs of bullying or victimization early:
Victims of cyberbullying may display signs such as:
- Unexplained injuries
- Missing or lost personal possessions
- Complaints of illness without signs or symptoms
- Changes in eating habits (e.g. skipping meals, overeating)
- Problems sleeping
- Poor grades or a decline in academic interest
- Sudden loss of friendship; avoidance of social situations
- Decreased self-esteem
- Intentional injury and other self-destructive behavior
- Talking about suicide
Signs a child is bullying someone else:
- Frequent fights or verbal confrontations
- Short fuse
- Frequent trips to the principal’s office or detention
- Deflects blame or responsibility
- Unexplained or new personal possessions
- Excessively competitive
- Worries about self-image or popularity often
Bullying is a problem youth often choose to face alone; it’s estimated more than half of teens don’t report cyberbullying to their parents or teachers.
According to the Cyberbullying Research Center, approximately 25 percent of middle and high school students have at some point experienced cyberbullying; 16 percent of those students admit to cyberbullying someone else.
Every day, more than 160,000 kids stay home from school to avoid bullying; approximately 4,400 youth suicides (ages 10-24) are recorded every year; for every suicide, there are approximately 100 suicide attempts.
Today, suicide is the third leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 14 and second leading cause of death for people between the ages of 15 and 34.
Wrongful death claims can be filed by families who have suffered the loss of a child who was bullied with electronic devices or on social media. Cyberbullies may also face criminal charges.
Michelle Carter, for example, was recently convicted of involuntary manslaughter in a Massachusetts court for successfully encouraging her ex-boyfriend to kill himself via text. She faces up to 20 years in prison.
All students, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or economic means should be free to pursue his or her education and personal interests without prejudice or ridicule online.
With the expansion of Colorado harassment law to include cyberbullying, and without governmental immunity for schools, it’s hard to say what the Colorado legal landscape will look like in forthcoming Colorado cyberbullying cases.
For now, parents should remain vigilant and monitor children’s online and offline behavior closely; look for signs of bullying or victimization, and take proper corrective actions without delay.