Is it worth suing a parent to cover the costs of an injury that their child accidentally caused?

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Is it worth suing a parent to cover the costs of an injury that their child accidentally caused?

My 10-year old son was hit in the mouth by a rock and it broke his tooth at school. The child who threw it did not mean it maliciously, but regardless, it broke my son’s tooth. The parents are refusing to pay for the dental work. My husband wants to get an attorney and make them pay. We live in a relatively small suburb where everyone knows everyone. I’d like to drop it but my husband won’t. Is he right to fight it?

Asked on January 10, 2012 under Personal Injury, Tennessee

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

There are two different issues to consider--besides the issue of the impact on your relations with other people in town:

1) Is it worth suing over? Even a simple lawsuit, if you had an attorney represent you, would likely cost between $1,200 and $2,500, assuming the other side does not simply capitulate at the outset. (This is  based on 8 - 10 hours of work, for drafting letters and pleadings, filing a lawsuit, conducting some back-and-forth with the other party and/or their attorney, and going to trial on the simplest & shortest of cases; at a rate of $150 - $250 per hour, which are fairly typical attorney rates.) It could cost more than that. However, in a case like this, you can only recover the actual dental cost; therefore, unless the dental work will cost $4,000 or more, it's difficult to see how it could be worthwile to hire an attorney.

Obviously, the calculus is different if you represent yourself in court. Of course, you both need to take time off from work or other activities to do that--and have to be willing to act as your own lawyer, in a case where a local resident is on the other side.

2) Is the other boy liable? His parents would only have to pay if he would be at fault. If he did not do this maliciously (i.e. it was not an attack), then to find liability, he must have been negligent, or unreasonably careless, as judged by the standards of 10 year old boys. If he was simply doing what boys do--e.g. pitching a rock at a tree or a pond, when nobody was in the line of fire--and it was dumb luck that your son got hit, it may well be that he, and his parents, would not be liable.


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