Accidental Damage: Who is at fault?

by epi on February 17, 2012

Q: I went to church Sunday and dropped my 24 mo. old off at the nursery and when I got back, a friend of mine was working in my child’s’ class that day and in front of everyone, he proceeded to tell me how bad my kid was and that when the teacher picked him up, he was kicking his legs and the girl’s cellphone fell off her side and went to the floor and broke in two. He was laughing, but I was horrified. My kid is usually good, of course he has his moments, but that’s beside the point. I went in to the girl and told her we would pay for the phone. She said she had insurance, but my husband gave her our numbers to call us if she wanted us to pay for the deductible. She called today and told us what it was and wants us to send her the money. #1 Was that even our responsibility to offer to pay for her phone, when she shouldn’t have even had her cell phone on her–I mean if it were her glasses or something I can understand, but this was a device that is not to be used while you’re tending to the children in the nursery. #2 One of my friends thinks I should say something to the woman that runs the nursery about how maybe people shouldn’t be wearing their cell phones on their hips or even on them while working in the nursery, so no one goes through this again and no one has to feel bad that something got broken.

A: No, you aren’t responsible for paying for the cell phone. It was the girl’s choice to wear the cell phone and should have realized that it might get broken. Who’s to say another child might not have grabbed at it, dropped it, and it was broken? However, it was a thoughtful gesture to offer to pay the deductible. It was your choice.

It would be fine for you to say something to the woman who runs the nursery so that a similar accident won’t happen in the future.

{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

kate February 17, 2012 at 10:34 am

Although I don’t think the parents have an absolute responsibility to pay for the phone, I do think they have a responsibility to honor their original offer of paying for the phone. In these types of situations, it is usually best to simply apologize for the incident, and wait until later to make an monetary offer.

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Ashleigh February 17, 2012 at 10:57 am

Agreed. Rescinding the original offer would be extremely tacky. However, the woman who runs the nursery needs to know. Nobody should be on their phone during the day texting, emailing, etc. Small children can get into trouble (both mischief and actual danger) in the blink of an eye and the people that are taking care of them need to be giving them 100% focus.

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Jody February 17, 2012 at 12:26 pm

I agree with the others — you offered to pay for the phone (very generous, by the way) and should honor that offer. The owner does need to know about what happened; I’d make sure she knows that your situation is resolved and you’re not blaming the school. You just want to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

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Country Girl February 17, 2012 at 12:30 pm

I disagree 100% with the EPI answer to this post and to the fact that these parents are not responsible for the paying for the phone.

First off, lets not skip over the fact that a “24 month old” is a two year old. Two year olds are plenty old enough to have been taught not to kick people! And saying that you are not responsible for paying for her phone (that your son effectively broke) for the reason that “she shouldn’t have had it on her” is quite simply the equivalent of saying “Sorry for spilling grape juice on your white shorts, but since it’s after labor day, you shouldn’t be wearing them so I’m not going to reimburse you.” It is literally equally ridiculous.

Bottom line, your son’s bad behavior caused this teacher to have a broken phone. Your son’s bad behavior gives you no immediate right to confront the teacher about the simple fact that she had her phone in her pocket/on her belt. She may well have had it on silent and needed it for an emergency, and that is not your business. Your business is that, instead of blaming the teacher, you need to reimburse her for her lost property and teach your son not to kick people for this exact reason; people get hurt and things get broken.

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Bianca February 17, 2012 at 2:31 pm

Spot on, Country Girl. Spot. On.

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DeeDee February 17, 2012 at 3:24 pm

Exactly Country Girl. Sounds like this mother is making an excuse for her child’s bad behavior. And absolutely, they should pay for the phone. All children have their moments. However, kicking is not acceptable on any level and there should be consequences. Was the child fighting with another child, was he not following instructions, etc. none of these were mentioned.

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Catherine February 17, 2012 at 3:41 pm

I’m going to have to disagree with Country Girl. All two year olds have meltdowns – no matter how well behaved they are , how the parents think they behave, or how a poster thinks children should behave….all children do this and it is developmentally appropriate (on rare occasions and as long as it isn’t a pattern) . I think Country Girl has an unrealistic view of child development and behaviors. Moreover, the person picking up the child may not have been doing it properly or after the child had a valid reason to not be picked up. Many daycare and church nursery provides are not trained no how to appropriately pick up and/or restrain a child, especially when that child is having a meltdown or acting out. They are often teenagers or college students too. Also, not all adults have the right to hold a child – even if they are a teacher. The child’s natural instincts could be kicking in. And, we don’t know how much the child was kicking or if the child was squirming or trying move away from the worker when contact was made with the child’s leg.

Cell phones are not appropriate in many situations and work is one of them. It is not the employees right to have a cell phone on them. Emergency or not. They are distracting and can be damaged or cause a dangerous condition in certain situations. Many professional child care providers do not allow employees to have their cellphones on them. When the employee violates those practices he or she places the liability for the phone or any situation that comes from that phone onto themselves.

That said, since the parents already offered to pay for the deductible they should honor their word, especially if the church nursery is staffed with volunteers.

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Amber February 17, 2012 at 4:03 pm

This is quite true. It is correct that children should not be taught to just kick people for the sake of kicking, but I would hope that my child would feel comfortable screaming and kicking the heck out of someone that frightened them. This could or could not have been the case. We don’t know. As someone who has worked with children for 12 years, I can say with confidence that many who work with people ages 0-18 have little training in the appropriate times and ways of restraining a child. I self-taught myself, and grew up with parents in behavioral health, so I know how to do it. My first job was a church nursery from age 15 to 18. I had no clue what I was doing. I was blessed to have common sense. And yes, many places (all the places I’ve worked) do not allow you to have cell phones on you for any reason at all. In fact, at my last job, leaving your phone in a place where the child could get to it was grounds for a formal warning, and eventually firing if you kept being non-compliant. I am a huge fan of cell phones being turned off and silent when working with minors.

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Country Girl February 17, 2012 at 4:40 pm

Darnit, I didn’t want to post this many times on one thread. =)

That’s ok to disagree with me on whether or not the child should have been justified to be kicking about. I personally think this is the prime age to begin teaching your child the difference between bad and good behavior, and I have seen plenty of children at 2 years capable of learning right from wrong. But it seems you are not the only contributor to the thread to disagree with me, and justify this kind of behavior for a child this age. These are personal opinions on raising children, and everyone has their own.

To your other point though, this teacher, in all likelihood, is not an employee. Someone might be able to correct me if I am wrong, but to my knowledge I have never heard of, in my church or otherwise, a Sunday school teacher or nursery teacher being paid. These parents should already be very aware, and probably signed a waver of some kind, that they are sending their child to be watched by a volunteer. She may or may not be trained to pick up a child, but again, she also may or may not have also been trying to spare other children in the class from being kicked. You take a known risk by sending your child to be watched at no cost by a volunteer, (and other parents are clearly taking a risk sending their kids to be in a class with this unruly child who is kicking and lashing about. ) If you don’t trust the church care givers, then you have all the rights to bring your child elsewhere.

And for the final point, at the risk of becoming a broken record, whether the parents already gave this women their word or not, paying for the phone it is the right thing to do.

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Erica February 21, 2012 at 3:53 pm

I completely agree with Country Girl, your child shouldn’t be kicking people, and saying “24 months” doesn’t give your child a “baby excuse”. You have no right telling someone they shouldn’t have a phone on them. This is modern day where everyone has a phone, and she might have needed it for an emergency or an important phone call she was waiting on. You may pass it off as “something children do” in your own home, but you don’t get to use that excuse in public or when other peoples stuff gets broken. I find it beyond ridiculous that so many parents think their child can get away with whatever they want just because they’re young. You don’t get to blame other people for your child’s bad behaviour.

Since you already offered to pay, it’s time to pay up.

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Jessica February 17, 2012 at 1:34 pm

It was generous to offer to pay the deductible but unnecessary. If I bring a personal object to work knowing that I am caring for small children, and that item is broken, that was a risk I took. Since they have already offered to pay, however, they should absolutely follow up on their offer.

I have to question whether Country Girl has ever interacted with a two-year old.

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Melissa February 17, 2012 at 1:35 pm

It was nice to offer to pay for it but I would pay directly to the company and not to her – therefore you know you are paying for what your son accidentally did. And yes, I would tell the director of the nursery. Our church – and our children’s school – does not allow any teacher to wear mobile devices while interacting with the students. They are being paid to be a teacher without distractions.

Lastly, it is perfectly resonable for a 2 year old to have a moment/temper tantrum/whatever and be kicking in frustration so no need to overjudge Country Girl!

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S Dittmar February 17, 2012 at 1:48 pm

2 Yr. olds are not little adults and even good kids have bad days for whatever reason. Unfortunately he had a bad day at an inopportune time and as a parent, I wouldn’t be happy about his behavior, would apologize, let my child know that it wasn’t acceptable. That said, I think that an apology would have been ample, but since you already offered, I think you should follow through with the reimbursement.

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Elizabeth February 17, 2012 at 2:27 pm

While I agree that a nursery teacher shouldn’t have been wearing her phone on her hip, the parents have already said they would pay the insurance deductible on the phone, and they should follow through with their plan. It would be rude to rescind the gesture. I would definitely speak with the nursery director and tell her that you have offered to pay for the teacher’s insurance deductible, but you hope the director should enforce a rule about not having cell phones in the nursery during church. Not following through on the promise to pay the insurance deductible could lead to the cold shoulder from the nursery teacher towards the parents and child.

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Glo773 February 17, 2012 at 2:33 pm

It is perfectly understandable that a two year old will act up sometimes and things may get broken. If you’re the two year old’s parent and they broke something of yours, you sigh, clean it up and buy a replacement. It’s just part of raising a child. But others don’t have that responsibility.

And as I say that I’m not scowling and wagging my finger — no extra guilt is should be placed on the mother or the child, it’s clearly just an accident. No more than if you were doing your best to drive safely, but happened to bump into the guy in front of you. I use the Judge Judy “But For” principal in this case. “BUT FOR your child’s kicking, her phone wouldn’t have been broken”. Therefore it is proper to pay.

Also, cell phone insurance isn’t the same as other insurance. Most are crappy and you don’t get a new phone as a replacement, you get a crappy refurbished phone that may or may not work – some companies will drop you if you ever make a claim. She is going to get screwed in the deal no matter what.

And could have a perfectly good reason for needing to keep her phone on her – from another job she’s on call for to being the next person on an organ donation list!! It’s not our job to dictate when and where she can keep her phone.

The nursery worker VOLUNTEERED her time to help care for the OP’s child. She may not have been a professional or a mother and thought in advance about what could be broken, but should she be penalized for her impulse to help?

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Raysingyrl February 17, 2012 at 2:51 pm

I was a Sunday school AND youth group leader at my church for 9 years. My positions were NEVER paid but merely volunteer. I taught as young as 4 and as old as 11, so pre-k to 5th grade. During that time, I also raised two of my own children as a single parent and worked a full time job.

That being said, 24 months is 2 years. Time to stop counting in months and recognize your infant is now a toddler and completely capable of harming anothers property to wit you are not legally liable, but should feel morally responsible.

The person in care of your child that day was most likely in a volunteer position doing work out of the goodness of her heart. Out of the goodness of your heart you offered to compensate her. Why question the validity of either gesture?

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Robin February 17, 2012 at 2:59 pm

I gotta’ agree with Country Girl, on this one. I worked at an emergency children’s shelter for over a year and I have also worked in the nursery at my church. The issue of the appropriateness of the teacher having her cell phone and whether that needs to be addressed with the nursery’s director is fine. Yet, the issue is that the cellphone was that teacher’s property and the writer’s child did break it. Are we next going to say that it was the teacher’s fault for picking the child up, in the first place, because she should have been able to tell that the child was having a bad day? It was an accident, and, like with mostly anything else, you would apologize and offer to reimburse. I think the writer’s initial reaction was correct.

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Country Girl February 17, 2012 at 3:23 pm

I absolutely have plenty of experience interacting with two-year olds. Not only do I currently have both friends and family members that have two-year old children whom I am very close with, but I have also previously worked at a day care center.

I do understand that all children have bad days and get moody, but that doesn’t mean they all behave (or additionally, should be justified to behave) in this way. It may very well be out of character for the child, but that certainly not make it “judgmental” to say that it is bad behavior for a him to kick and thrash about. (The parents’ own friend who was present even said he was behaving badly.)

The truth is, neither the child’s age nor whether or not the parents opinion that the teacher should have had a cell phone with her absolves them from needing to replace what their child’s tantrum has damaged. It is unfortunately possible that in his fit, if the teacher had not picked him up, he could have kicked and hurt another child or knocked over and damaged something else. You can see how silly it sounds to say “Well they/it shouldn’t have been so close to my thrashing child.” In my own opinion, a reasonable parent, instead of focusing on something like having phones removed from the area where someone is watching your child (and likely of their own good will, since this was at church) would instead focus on paying for the damage caused, and trying to use the situation to teach the child something, and move on.

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Jerry February 17, 2012 at 9:00 pm

Country Girl: The real question is who should bear the costs here. (That’s a question tort law attempts to answer.) It is absolutely not silly to say “well they/it shouldn’t have been so close to my thrashing child.” The issue is not “phones removed from the area.” The issue is are you acting in a manner that is consistent with how a reasonable person would act in the same circumstances. As I discussed below, the babysitter was not acting responsibly under the circumstances. Note that the answer might be different if the two-year old were running around in an office building or another place where children aren’t supposed to be.

The issue of whether the child “could have kicked or hut another child or knocked over or damaged something else” is a red herring. A two year old is incapable of doing any real damage to another child during a temper tantrum. And a nursery is unlikely to be outfitted in such a way as to have expensive equipment that a two year old could break.

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Winifred Rosenburg February 18, 2012 at 1:31 pm

Two-year olds hurt other children all the time. It’s a very real possibility.

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Jerry February 18, 2012 at 3:39 pm

I’d like to know what two year olds you’re hanging out with!

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Just Laura February 18, 2012 at 7:06 pm

My younger brother comes to mind… ;)
He’s in the Navy now, so I guess he turned out all right.

Kristina February 17, 2012 at 10:30 pm

I don’t think anyone thought that it was good for a 2 year old to have a meltdown, just that it happens with kids that age, and it’s not a sign of terrible parenting when a kid that young had a meltdown. Obviously it’s something you want to work with the kid to not do.

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D.Sherman February 17, 2012 at 7:19 pm

You offered to pay the deductible of the insurance you should pay it. The sole reason for this is you are attempting to justify and validate reneging of your original offer ( I’m assuming you found out it was a pricier phone).

To all the comments regarding she shouldn’t have had the phone to begin with should look ask themselves if there was an emergency or an armed man came threatening their kid and the cellphone was what prevented anything happening to your child, wouldn’t you be glad and happy she DID have the phone on her? I know i would.

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Jerry February 17, 2012 at 8:47 pm

This is not a hard problem. It’s called assumption of risk — you carry a phone on your hip (rather than in your pocket or in your purse), you run the risk that it will fall and break. And if you’re working with toddlers while storing your phone on your hip? You shouldn’t be surprised if he knocks your phone off: you’re asking for what you get!

While it was generous to offer to pay the deductible — and it’s an offer that you shouldn’t rescind (unless the deductible is really outrageous) — you had no obligation to offer anything. The babysitter should see this as a learning opportunity. (Education is expensive.) It is absolutely correct that a two year old has to learn how to behave in public. But you don’t make a kid’s parents pay for damage because the kid breaks something valuable that the owner was dumb enough to leave out!

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Sally February 17, 2012 at 10:47 pm

I also disagree with the blog post.

Sure, it’s not a crime for a 2yo to kick and break someone’s property, but I thought we were talking about etiquette here. I don’t think it’s very polite, actually, to blame someone else for having THEIR property broken by your child. (Nor do I think it is good parenting, to make excuses for one’s child’s behaviour – but that’s another point.)
If you took your child to someone’s house and they knocked over a glass vase, would you say to your friend, ‘You shouldn’t have put the vase there?’ No, it would be rude to say that. It may well be true, and they may say that, but it is not for YOU to say.

Last time I checked, etiquette is not about finding out who is to blame for some negative outcome. It is about looking at your OWN social responsibilities and doing the right thing by your fellow man (or woman). It was the right thing to do, to offer to pay for the phone; and I think the right thing to do now is simply to pay for it cheerfully, without trying to apportion any blame to the church or nursery worker.

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Zakafury February 18, 2012 at 11:48 pm

If my friend were babysitting and my child knocked over her vase, I certainly would not pay for it. If I were there and nominally watching myself, it would be my responsibility.

Perhaps I have a bias against anyone wearing a cell phone as an accessory and against anyone who pays for cell phone insurance, which has been so expensive I would have to break my phone at least once per year to make it worth buying.

Placing blame can be avoided, and we should pay what we offer. There is no obligation to cover this cost, though.

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V.T. Reynolds February 18, 2012 at 8:32 am

Another expensive lesson learned: be very careful what you offer and, how you make an offer, when it comes to covering a loss. If you do not pay for what you offered to cover, that makes you one of those people who says one thing but, perceived as deception, means another. It is better to honor your offer than to create a negative reputation for yourself, particularly at your house of worship.

An appealing alternative for you may be to pay for what you offered to cover, but to offer to do this in installments, citing the unexpected high value of the phone. At that point, the young lady may accept your first “installment” and perhaps call it even (that would be the classy thing to do on her part). If she does not, at least you will know that you were the classy party.

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apratt33 January 13, 2013 at 2:05 am

Bottom line, if your child damages someones property you should be held responsible. If your property was damaged I am sure you wouldn’t hold the same perspective. I feel parents need to be responsible for the damage their kids cause. No one should have to pay money to replace/fix any personal property due to the actions for kids that have no self control or that haven’t been taught respect. Even at an early age kids are taught right and wrong. When you make excuses for the things your kids do and look for reasons as to why you are not responsible says a lot about you as a responsible ADULT.

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Faffers April 30, 2013 at 3:49 pm

Country Girl has it absolutely spot on.

Too many children these days, 2 years old or 12, get away with murder simply because their parents refuse to take any responsibility for their behavior or actions. My father owns houses on council estates where children have broken into the empty house, taken tools which were left there over night, and then seen in the street using said tools to demolish the protruding fence of our property. When we confronted the parents, they didn’t want to know and completely defended their child.

I understand such a situation is different to this topic, but I get the feeling this woman is a decent soul and it’s random acts of kindness like paying for the phone which is keeping the balance of society in these twisted times. Children will continue to do wrong if their parents do not take responsibility for their actions and upbringing. Your child may well of had his moment and the situation can be easily dealt with. Do the right thing, forget about the finances and pay up.

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claims representative June 6, 2013 at 2:00 pm

Phones can be an expensive out of pocket expense. while some feel the child is to blame or the teacher, you may consider reporting it to your homeowner’s liability insurance for accidental damage to property of others caused by an insured. The same questions will come up as to whether the son was more to blame than the teacher but at least the liability arguments are out of your hands. The claim might get paid or might get denied. Moral obligations are not negligence and although one feels strongly that they may be morally obligated to pay damages; the insurance company is not committed to payment without a show of negligence.

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