Along with the advent of the electronic age has come an unexpected side effect—a new form of bullying known as “electronic aggression” or “cyberbullying” that poses new coverage issues for policyholders and insurers alike. As may pertain to coverage issues, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines bullying as “a form of youth violence” that which includes “[a]ttack or intimidation with the intention to cause fear, distress, or harm that is either physical (hitting, punching), verbal (name calling, teasing), or psychological/relational (rumors, social exclusion),” and which “can result in physical injury, social and emotional distress, and even death.”
Bullying can occur in person or through technology (electronic aggression, or cyberbullying). Electronic aggression is bullying that occurs through email, a chat room, instant messaging, a website, text messaging, or videos or pictures posted on websites or sent through cell phones.
An anti-cyberbullying advocacy website notes that “[c]yberbullying is usually not a one time communication, unless it involves a death threat or a credible threat of serious bodily harm.”
Cyberbullying, if serious enough, may result in a misdemeanor cyberbullying charge or juvenile delinquency charges. If hacking or password or identity theft is involved, state and federal cyber-crime statutes may be implicated.
The past decade has seen an increase in cyberbullying, including some highly publicized incidences of suicide by victims. The CDC has accordingly labeled cyberbullying a probable “emerging public health problem.” Given that over 80 percent of children aged 12–17 use social media, incidences of cyberbullying could well increase. Although so-called traditional bullying has long presented coverage issues (such as whether there was an occurrence), cyberbullying presents unique coverage questions, making it an emerging coverage issue.
Third-party claimants may pursue claims against alleged minor perpetrators as well as their parents, who in turn may seek coverage under their homeowners’ policies. This article considers some of the coverage issues that may be presented by cyberbullying claims under homeowners’ primary and umbrella liability policies, as both types of policies have had recent changes in language that have an impact on what coverage may be available.