Last week, the B.C. Supreme Court issued a ruling with scary implications for parents of rambunctious teens: you could be financially liable for their dumb and destructive acts on school property.
In this case, the parents of a Nanaimo, B.C. teenager are on the hook for nearly $49,000 in damages for a prank gone awry.
In 2012, 17-year-old Carson Dean grabbed a friend’s padlock and attempted to close it around an overhead fire sprinkler at Wellington Secondary School. Such sprinklers aren’t designed to handle much physical abuse. Sure enough, Dean activated the sprinkler, which in turn set off the school’s entire system. The school was evacuated and sustained property damage valued at $48,630.47.
Justice Shelley Fitzpatrick said it’s the first time a court has grappled with the B.C. School Act’s section on intentional property destruction, even though that clause has existed since the 1950s.
Section 10 of the act declares that parents are jointly liable if a student either intentionally or negligently destroys, damages or loses school property.
Dean’s parents argued that their son was just trying to play a prank and had no larger designs on school-wide property destruction. Fitzpatrick agreed that the incident was “clearly the result of a young boy misbehaving,” but added Dean’s actions were negligent since they were foreseeable and didn’t exercise a standard of care.
“He certainly did not turn his mind to the risk involved in interfering with the sprinkler head,” Fitzpatrick said. “The question is whether, viewed objectively, he should have . . . The answer to that question here is conclusively yes.”
This has implications for parents outside B.C. as well, since other provinces have similar laws. Alberta’s School Act, for example, contains a very similar provision on parental liability.
Joint liability doesn’t end at the schoolyard either. Several provinces, including B.C., Manitoba, and Ontario also have laws holding parents financially liable for their kid’s destructive actions. Ontario’s Parental Responsibility Act allows victims to take parents to court for damages up to $25,000.