Parents liable for damage to school property
A 14 year old student and his parents were held liable and ordered to pay over $48,000 plus interest and legal costs after his school prank unintentionally but foreseeably activated a sprinkler system and caused extensive water damage to his school’s property. The defendant student in Nanaimo-Ladysmith School District No. 68 v. Dean, 2015 BCSC 11 had decided to play a prank on his friend by attaching the friend’s padlock to a sprinkler head.
The School District sued under section 10 of the BC School Act, which states that a student and his parents are jointly and severally liable for an intentional or negligent act causing damage to property. The interpretation of “intentional act” under section 10 had never before been considered by a court, although the Act was enacted in the late 1950s. At trial the defendants denied liability, arguing that the student did not intend to activate the sprinkler system or cause damage, but the court rejected the argument, holding that the legislation refers simply to an intentional act and does not require intention to cause damage. The court held that the defendant student should reasonably have foreseen that interference with the sprinkler head could cause it to activate, with the obvious consequence that water would spray. The defendant student did not meet the standard of care expected from a child of like age, intelligence, and experience.
This case highlights the potential “draconian” effect of the legislation, which can have “disastrous financial effect on a young person and his or her parents.” While homeowner insurance policies often cover homeowners and residents of their household against liability to third parties for property damage, it is important to note that such policies often exclude coverage if the damage is caused “intentionally” by an insured 13 years of age or older.
Case law update by: Fareeha Qaiser