In the past, victims of bullying could go home after school and find solace in the safety of their home. But, the endless bombardment of social media in our society now allows bullies to invade that safe zone by engaging in what has been dubbed "cyberbullying" or "electronic aggression." In some cases, the victim of cyberbullying is emotionally or physically harmed. In legal terms, this means that parents and victims will take action against their bullies for these harmful effects. The defendants often turn to their homeowners liability policy in the hopes that coverage exists for the defense and/ or settlement of these claims. While this seems like a simple solution, the coverage they seek may not be available.
In general terms, bullying is any intentional, aggressive behavior meant to intimidate another person and victims are often school-aged students. Cyberbullying occurs online or through communications such as text messages or email. This also can include posting embarrassing rumors, pictures or other content on social networking sites. There isn’t an accidental bully. It is an intentional behavior. Therefore, this action has the potential to leave a policyholder without coverage in the event of litigation.
A standard homeowners policy states that the policy will pay the limit of liability for damages for which the insured is legally liable, and provide a defense by an attorney, even if the suit is "groundless, false or fraudulent." However, the standard policy also excludes any bodily injury or property damage that is "expected or intended by the insured." So, the standard policy could deny coverage for cyberbullying because the behavior is intentional, and the insured who engages in the activity intends to bring about the physical or emotional injury to the victim. Some policies may provide coverage if the law suit alleges that the parents negligently supervised their child.
The best way to protect yourself from liability exposures like this is to monitor your children’s online activity and take preventative measures against cyberbullying. If you are concerned about whether your homeowners policy will cover you in the event of a lawsuit, give our office a call, we can discuss coverage options.