A Nanaimo teenager and his parents have been ordered by a judge to pay $48,630 in damages after the boy pulled a lunch-hour prank that set off his school’s sprinkler system in 2012.
The boy, who was 14 at the time, took a friend’s padlock and, as a joke, tried to attach it to a sprinkler head on the ceiling of a hallway at Wellington Secondary School.
The teen, whom the Times Colonist is not naming because of his age, jumped up and managed to get the lock through the sprinkler head. He kept jumping in an effort to fasten the lock.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Shelley Fitzpatrick noted in her judgment that, “in perhaps a moment of clarity and foresight,” an onlooker told the boy: “ ‘This is a bad idea, you’re being a dumbass.’ ”
The target of the prank, who was also watching, described his friend’s actions as not “incredibly ingenious,” Fitzpatrick said.
After the boy’s final jump, the sprinkler went off, triggering others and causing extensive water damage. The school was evacuated and the boy immediately confessed his actions to a teacher.
The Nanaimo-Ladysmith Board of Education sued for damages, but agreed with the family that the boy had no intention of activating the sprinkler head.
“His sole intention was to lock the padlock to the metal ring around the sprinkler head,” Fitzpatrick said. “[His] thinking at the time, to the extent that you can call it thinking, was that [his friend] would have to get help to unlock the padlock from the sprinkler head, likely by a school janitor using a ladder.”
Nevertheless, Fitzpatrick found the family liable under a section of the School Act that holds students and their parents responsible for damages caused by the intentional or negligent actions of a student.
Fitzpatrick acknowledged that the 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.”
But, she said, changing the provision is a matter for the legislature, not the courts.
“I am sure that this is a very unfortunate result for the … family and perhaps it will be for other families in the future,” she wrote.
“This was clearly the result of a young boy misbehaving and thinking that the only grief to come of it would be to [his friend] and perhaps the janitor in removing the padlock. Obviously, more dire consequences followed.”
Vancouver lawyer Steven Lee, who acted for the school board, said the decision came as no surprise.
“Despite the fact that most people don’t know about that provision in the School Act, it’s been there since in 1953 … and it’s used all the time,” he said.