January .12 .2015

Sprinkler Prank No Laughing Matter

We’ve all heard the saying “kids will be kids”, but that reasoning was not enough in the case of a young prankster.

In 2012, 14-year-old Carson Dean, a student at Wellington Secondary School in Nanaimo, decided to play a prank on his friend during his lunch break. He took his friend’s padlock and first tried to attach it to a hallway door, for which he was reprimanded by a teacher. He then set his sights on the sprinkler head on the ceiling. He began jumping for the sprinkler on the 8 foot high ceiling and eventually set it off along with the fire alarm. The gushing water forced the entire school to evacuate. Carson admitted what he had done to a teacher.

The school district sued Carson and his parents, Cheryl and Kevin Dean, for negligence and nearly $50,000 to cover the water damage.

The district sought recovery of damages from the Dean family relying on Section 10 of the School Act:

“If property of a board … is destroyed, damaged, lost or converted by the intentional or negligent act of a student …, that student and that student's parents are jointly and severally liable to the board … in respect of the act of that student.”

The Deans countered the lawsuit and argued that the school board’s interpretation of the fifty-year-old Section of the School Act was incorrect. They believed it wasn’t Carson’s intention to cause major damage to the school and so “…by the intentional or negligent act of a student…” in the Act did not apply to him. They also claimed that that school district was negligent for not training students to not touch the sprinklers, watching their son more closely during the incident, and having installed better protection to the sprinkler head system.

The trial judge sympathized with the family, stating that the School Act provision is harsh and could have “disastrous financial effect on a young person and his or her parents.” Despite this, she dismissed the Deans’ claims and sided with the school board, ruling that the student should have known better than to disrupt the sprinkler system.

“I am sure that this is a very unfortunate result for the Dean family and perhaps it will be for other families in the future.” Madam Justice Fitzpatrick wrote in the trial judgement,” This was clearly the result of a young boy misbehaving and thinking that the only grief to come of it would be to Ben and perhaps the janitor in removing the padlock. Obviously, more dire consequences followed. However, if there is to be any change to this provision in the School Act, that is a matter for the legislature, not the courts.”

The Dean family was order to pay the $48,630.47 for water damages to the school board.

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