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Weston Students Try to Poison Teacher, Should Parents be Liable?

When do parents take the fall for something their children did? If a child (or teenager) does something wrong and harms someone, can the parents be sued?

Two middle school students in Weston reportedly put cleaning fluid in their teacher's water bottle, The Boston Globe reports.

That’s an important question to ask, especially because one huge part of a personal injury lawsuit involves the collection of damages. And if you won’t be able to collect from the person you’re suing, it can limit your reasons for the lawsuit.

Some might say that the point of a lawsuit could be to make a point, or to send a message to the parents that they need to pay closer attention to what their kids are doing. After all, the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree, right?

But are parents to blame for the bad behavior of their children? That’s the eternal question. At least in parenting circles, it is. But putting parenting questions aside, let’s focus on the legal questions— are parents responsible, by law, for the wrongs of their kids? And if so, to what extent?

In Massachusetts, parents are liable for the willful acts of children between the ages of seven and eighteen. According to the law, a custodial parent will be liable in any civil action for any willful act committed by the child.

A parent who doesn’t have official custody of the child, however, won’t be on the hook.

The one interesting thing in this statute is that recovery is limited to five thousand dollars. That’s not to say that every lawsuit should claim damages of five thousand dollars. But essentially, if there is an injury caused by the child’s conduct, the parents can be sued for the amount of the proved loss or damage, up to a limit of five thousand dollars.

In this case, the teacher didn’t drink the water, so it would be hard to say what the damages would be. It might be fair to assume that there could be some damages for emotional distress, but would they amount to five thousand dollars?

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