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Who’s responsible for the kids?

April, 2011

Spring is just around the corner and with the nice weather, children will be playing outside more. What happens when they hurt each other playing sports? Just how responsible are we for the acts of our minor children?

The law presumes we are responsible for the harm our children cause to someone else and this presumption can only be refuted if we can establish that we have carried out our obligation to supervise and educate them properly.

This liability applies to those who may be entrusted with and paid for the supervision or education of our children. Examples would be schoolteachers, daycare employees, camp counselors, sports coaches, and park monitors. Those who care for a child without payment will not be held responsible unless they themselves have committed an act of fault.

To illustrate, a 13-year-old girl was injured playing hockey during a gym class and her parents sued the school board. The court did not hold the defendant responsible because the rules had been explained to the students prior to the start of the game, several games had been played over a reasonable time period, the players were supervised by an experienced instructor, they wore protective glasses and their equipment was adequate and conformed to regulations. The accident was unforeseeable and involuntary and the board had done everything it could to prevent such an occurrence.

On the other hand, when a 15-year-old boy incurred a body-contact injury during a high school sporting event, the court held that the school had an obligation to keep its students safe by explaining the risks involved, by supervision and by providing secure equipment and a safe environment in which to play. The court found there had been insufficient instruction given, there was no close surveillance, and the protective equipment was inadequate. Because the teachers had failed to rebut the presumption of responsibility for the acts of the minor students under their care, the school was held liable.

When a 12-year-old boy lost most of the function of an eye as a result of a schoolyard brawl with another 12-year-old boy, his parents sued the parents of the other boy, their insurance company and the school.

The judge held that both boys were at fault and had contributed equally to the injury. He was convinced that the parents had properly educated their son and that his action was a spontaneous reaction to the actions of the other boy. The school had rebutted the presumption of inadequate supervision as the event occurred quickly, there was nothing about the boys that could have led anyone to suspect that anything like this could happen and even had there been additional supervision, the incident could probably not have been prevented. Consequently only the boys were held accountable and only 50 per cent of the damages were granted to the injured boy.

When, as part of a game, a father instructed his 7-year-old son to throw a stick that hit a 12-year-old girl in the eye, the court held the boy was too young to realize the danger but the father should have realized it. The father was held personally liable for the injuries and ordered to pay damages to the girl.

So with the nicer weather of spring upon us, when your children and grandchildren take out their balls and bats, be sure they know what they can and should not do. And when you wind up and pitch that first baseball of the season, be careful!



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