The Vancouver Island parents of a teenager are on the hook for more than $48,000 after their son's prank set off all the sprinkler heads across his school, causing extensive damage.
A newly released B.C. Supreme Court ruling rejected the claims of Cheryl and Kevin Dean that their son didn't mean to cause the damage in the 2012 incident, which occurred when he was 14.
According to the ruling, Carson Dean, now 17, attached a friend's padlock to a sprinkler head on the ceiling at Wellington Secondary School. The Nanaimo-Ladysmith School District took the Deans to court over the incident.
"I am sure that this is a very unfortunate result for the Dean family," Justice Shelley Fitzpatrick wrote in the ruling, which delves into the intent, consequences and dynamics of mischievous horseplay, as well as whether kids are accountable for damage caused by such actions.
But Justice Fitzpatrick also writes there may be a larger issue around a section of the B.C. School Act that says a student and their parents are liable if school-board property is destroyed, damaged or lost by the negligent or intentional act of a student.
"As an initial observation, I agree with the submissions of both counsel that this provision appears to be 'draconian' in the sense that it could have a disastrous financial effect on a young person and his or her parents," says the ruling.
However, Justice Fitzpatrick wrote that Carson should have known his prank would cause trouble and he and his parents were liable. The family has to pay $48,000, court-order interest, plus costs to be assessed.
"Carson knew that, by his attendance at school, he was not expected to destroy school property at his will and that it was reasonably foreseeable that, if he acted inappropriately, he could cause damage."
She adds: "In the case of Carson, he was well aware of the ability to play with things and break them."
After taking the padlock one day in January, 2012, Carson decided to attach it to the sprinkler head, jumping up and down to do so. The youth was about 5-feet-7 while the ceiling was eight-feet high.
According to the ruling, a friend warned Carson, "'This is a bad idea, you're being a dumbass.'"
The student targeted for the prank was standing aside because he feared the sprinkler would go off, according to the ruling which quotes him as saying, Carson's actions were not "incredibly ingenious."
During a jump, a red filament in the sprinkler head was disturbed and it began spraying water, leading to other sprinkler heads being activated. The school was evacuated and Carson confessed to a teacher about what he had done.
The parties in the case agreed that the amount of damages was $48,630.47.
One other point of agreement among the parties was that Carson didn't intend to activate the sprinkler and that his "thinking at the time, to the extent that you can call it thinking," was that his friend would have to get help from a school janitor equipped with a ladder to get his padlock.
But Justice Fitzpatrick notes that the key to actionable negligence is not the intention of the individual, but rather the breach of duty of care owed by a reasonable person, writes the Justice. "Therefore, it is concerned entirely with conduct and not at all with intent."
"I am satisfied that, if he had turned his mind to the matter, Carson would have realized that it was reckless to interfere with the sprinkler head and that it was reasonably foreseeable that he might interfere with it to the point of breaking and damaging it,"she writes. "I find that Carson did not meet the standard of care expected from a child of like age, intelligence and experience and that he was negligent in the circumstances."
The Deans and their lawyer were unavailable for comment.