High school dare costs B.C. parents more than $48,000

A recent British Columbia Supreme Court decision involving a $48,000 prank highlights the fact that a "kids will be kids" argument does not absolve students from behaving inappropriately at school, says Windsor education lawyer Bryce Chandler.

While most decisions involving schools and negligence discuss the duty of care owed to students by teachers and/or school boards, Nanaimo-Ladysmith School District No. 68 v. Dean, 2015 BCSC 11 (CanLII) deals with the duty of care owed by a student to his or her school, says Chandler, who did not act in the case.

The trial judge in the case held a student's parents liable for approximately $48,000 in damages caused by their son's prank on the basis that the student owed a duty of care to his school, he says.

“In 2012, in response to a dare, and as part of a prank, a 14-year-old student at the Wellington Secondary School in Nanaimo-Ladysmith School District No. 68 locked his friend's padlock to a ceiling sprinkler head in his high school,” says Chandler, partner with Shibley Righton LLP. “As the student jumped repeatedly in what was described as not ‘incredibly ingenious’ attempts to affix the padlock to the sprinkler, he disturbed the sprinkler's filament activating not only that sprinkler, but the entire sprinkler system, resulting in $48,630.47 in water damage to the school.”

One of the issues before the court was whether the student's actions were "intentional" within the meaning of s. 10 of the School Act, which provides that a student and his or her parents are jointly and severally liable for damage to property flowing from a student's "intentional or negligent" acts, says Chandler.

The school district argued the student was negligent, and that his intentional act of interference with the sprinkler head caused the damage. But the defendants took the position that s. 10 of the School Act did not impute liability unless the student intended to cause the damage.

“They further argued that the legislative provision was unduly harsh insofar as it imposed liability on parents, irrespective of any fault on their part, with potentially ‘ruinous’ implications,” says Chandler. “This notwithstanding, the trial judge found there did not need to be a finding of intent on the part of the student in order for his parents to be held liable for the damages under the act.”

While the defendants submitted that the student was not negligent and did not owe any duty of care to the school because it was not foreseeable to a 14-year-old that disturbance to a sprinkler head would cause damage, the trial judge disagreed.

A school can reasonably expect that students will “generally conduct themselves appropriately so as not to cause damage to the school,” reads the decision.

“In this respect, the trial judge specifically held that students know that they are expected to behave in a manner so as to avoid damage to the school and that this gave rise to a duty of care owed by students to the school,” says Chandler. “Ultimately, the trial judge held that the student did not turn his mind to the recklessness of his actions and that he was negligent in the circumstances.”

The judge also held that the school district was not contributorily negligent in the circumstances given that there was no reasonable expectation that a student would play with a sprinkler head and, further, that there was no failure in supervision in the circumstances, says Chandler.

“This decision provides useful commentary not just regarding liability, but also that a ‘kids will be kids’ argument does not absolve students from exhibiting an appropriate standard of behaviour, which may provide school boards with remedies in situations damages results from students' behaviour falls short of the appropriate standard,” he says.

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