When Horseplay Goes Too Far–Are the Parents Liable?

The video is horrifying.

A 16 year old girl stands with her friends, on the outer ledge of bridge that looms 60 feet over the cool river below. Why is she there? Local teens routinely jump off of this bridge in the hot summer months.

And yes, there is a big sign warning thrill-seekers not to jump off of the bridge.

The girl changes her mind. “No, I won’t go in,” she can clearly be heard saying on the video. So clear, that the boy standing next to her says to their friends, “She’s saying no.”

Suddenly, a friends standing behind the girl shoves her with “considerable force.”

She flails through the air, plunging three stories for three seconds, hitting the water in a bone crushing belly flop.

To give you a sense of how high this girl was, professional cliff diving, arguably the most dangerous extreme sport, starts at 59 feet.

This girl was no professional diver. Nor was she in a position to jump into the water feet first, in a vertical line.

When she hit the water, it is the equivalent of hitting concrete. The overwhelming odds should have left her dead or paralyzed. Instead, she miraculously walked away (or rather was carried away on a stretcher) with five broken ribs, an injured trachea, a bruised esophagus, and air trapped in the lining of her lungs.

Alive, yes, but in pretty sorry shape.

So what should happen to her friend? Was it horseplay? Malice? The police haven’t decided yet whether she will be charged with a crime.

Regardless of whether it was horseplay or malice, one thing is clear. The friend’s actions caused the girl’s injuries. Are the friend’s parents financially responsible for their child’s actions?

The answer is maybe.

Parents may be liable under common law for personal injuries if they knew of their child’s recklessness and carelessness, but did not take any action to prevent the damage or injury. The grounds for such liability is parental negligence.

Here is an example. Your teenage driver hits a woman crossing the street, and the woman is severely injured. If you knew your teenager was a bad driver (e.g., speeding tickets, fender benders), and you did nothing to reasonably prevent her from driving recklessly (like punishing her for speeding tickets or signing her up for a safety class), the woman may have grounds for a lawsuit against you.

So what should you do if your child accidently (or on purpose) damages injures another child? For example, your child bumps into (or pushes) your neighbor’s child on playground, your neighbor’s child falls and breaks a couple of teeth, and now your neighbor is demanding you pay the dental bill and threatening to sue you. You may decide to pay the bill to keep the peace between you are your neighbor. Or you may decide that accidents happen (especially at the playground) and to call his bluff. Whatever you do decide, you should consult with an attorney. You don’t want to pay the bill only to have your neighbor come back and demand more money, or to pass up on an opportunity to settle the matter for a much lesser amount (the bill versus the bill plus attorney fees).

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Copyright © 2018 by Siobhán Fitzpatrick Kratovil. All Rights Reserved.

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