In brief - School failed to apply its own anti-bullying
In May 2013, the NSW Court of Appeal upheld the 2011 decision of
the Supreme Court of NSW that St Patrick's College breached its
duty of care to a student when it failed to apply its own
anti-bullying policies when it became aware that the student had
Student brings claim of negligence against school after being
exposed to bullying
On 13 April 2011, in Oyston v St Patrick's College  NSWSC 269,
the Supreme Court of NSW released its decision awarding Ms Oyston,
a former student of St Patricks College, $116,296 plus interest in
damages arising from harm that she suffered as a result of bullying
by other students of the school.
Ms Oyston attended at the school from year 7 to the beginning of
year 10, from 2002 to early 2005.
In 2007 she brought a claim in negligence, alleging that she had
been harmed as a result of being exposed to bullying by students of
Did the school take adequate steps to satisfy its duty of
The issue before Justice Schmidt of the Supreme Court was
whether the school took adequate steps to ensure that it satisfied
its duty of care owed to Ms Oyston.
Ms Oyston gave evidence that she had been subjected to verbal
and physical bullying over the course of three years, from 2002 to
2005, which included name calling, teasing, giggling, sniggering,
physical attacks and exclusion.
Ms Oyston testified that she reported the bullying to a number
of school staff members over that time period, but the school
failed to respond reasonably to her complaints.
Ms Oyston alleged that in 2004 she became sad, anxious,
depressed and suicidal. In February 2005, Ms Oyston made excuses
not to go to school and her parents removed her from the school
when she was 15 years of age.
School claims that student was not bullied or that it was
unaware of the bullying
The school asserted that Ms Oyston had not been subjected to
behaviour which amounted to bullying. In the alternative, if she
had been, the school asserted that it did not have knowledge of the
The evidence revealed that the school had implemented two
policies which dealt with bullying, contained in the school's
Student Conduct Policies & Procedures and in its Personal
Protection & Respect Policy.
However, during the relevant period from 2002 to 2005, the
Personal Protection & Respect Policy was under review and was
in draft form. Further, the evidence of the school was that the
published policies were not in practical operation from 2002 to
Supreme Court finds that school was aware of bullying and
failed to respond appropriately
Based on the evidence, the Supreme Court found that the school
failed to take adequate steps to deal with and respond to Ms
Oyston's complaints of bullying. In particular, it was found
that in 2004 the school was aware that Ms Oyston had been bullied,
noting that she repeatedly collapsed at school was taken to
hospital in 2004.
However, the school failed to deal appropriately with Ms
Oyston's bullying complaints, as required under its policies.
This was found to be a significant cause of the harm that she
It was found that the school clearly recognised the risk that
bullying could lead to harm to students, given that it had
implemented policies dealing with bullying. However, the school
breached its duty of care to Ms Oyston when it failed to apply its
policies when it became aware that Ms Oyston had been bullied by
Ms Oyston appealed the damages awarded and the school cross
Schools must apply anti-bullying policies consistently to
prevent harm to students
On 27 May 2013, in Oyston v St Patrick's College  NSWCA 135,
the NSW Court of Appeal affirmed the primary judge's ruling
that the school breached its duty of care to Ms Oyston in failing
to take reasonable steps to end the bullying that it was aware of
This case demonstrates that the risk of psychological harm
resulting from bullying is a foreseeable risk requiring schools not
only to implement, but to apply anti-bullying policies consistently
to prevent harm to students subjected to bullying.
Steps should be taken to ensure that staff and students
understand, adhere to and enforce the policies.
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