No more sleepovers, birthday parties, or babysitting…
Some of the most vivid memories I have from childhood involved sleepovers at friends houses or having my friends come and stay.
Those moments, when you experience for the first time what it’s like to be without your own parents, and are expected to fit in with families with totally different habits to your own, are incredibly important in childhood development.
But a NSW court has this afternoon put an end to the practice - awarding $853,396 in damages to a boy who fell from a bunk-bed at a friends house. The friend’s parents have to pay.
What sane parent now will be game to let their friends kids so much as place a foot over the threshold of their house, knowing they could be liable for such and extraordinary amount of money.
Cameron Brock Thomas was on his first ever sleepover at his friend Joel Shaw’s house on the NSW north coast in 2004 when he fell from bunk bed and sustained serious head injuries.
The court heard since then he has had ongoing medical issues and his personality has changed.
Joel’s parents William and Susan Shaw claimed the then-10-year-old had been “skylarking” when the incident happened, but he maintained there was no ladder and he fell climbing down via a chest of drawers.
Today Justice David Kirby said Cameron’s version of events was “more plausible” and awarded the massive damages ruling.
It is impossible to understand how these people, who had been doing a generous thing in allowing their son’s friend stay over, could end up in this financial situation because of what was essentially an accident.
Justice Kirby said, among other things, Cameron’s future challenges would likely include the “need to cope with the likely success of his brothers.”
“I believe, in these circumstances, that some reasonable allowance should be made for psychiatric consultation and even acute care in the course of what is likely to be a long life.”
While I’m sure its true Cameron will need ongoing care, I fail to see why the Shaws should be required to fund it.
We have a public health system in this country, what while far from perfect, should be able to cater to Cameron’s ongoing physical and psychiatric treatment.
And what Justice Kirby has done today will put all parents in an impossible position.
What if at your daughter’s next birthday party one of her friends slips on the deck and breaks her right arm, the one she writes with? Will you be liable for the fact she might not perform so well in the entrance test for the selective high school she wants to attend? Maybe you should have cleaned up that spilled lemonade a bit quicker.
You want to go out for dinner on Saturday night and can’t find a babysitter? Forget about leaving your kids with the neighbours - your kids won’t be allowed off the kerb and onto the driveway now.
When you put your kids in the care of someone other than a professional the trust has to go both ways. While yes, there’s an implied requirement for them to do their best to ensure the safety of your child, they should be able in return to trust that standard won’t land them in debt of nearly $1 million.
Our whole society functions on that two-way trust, and now it’s broken we’re much worse for it.
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