Are Drinking Fountains Too Dangerous for Kids? (Surprising Legal Answer!)

Readers — This just in, from jolly old England: Three years ago, a 9-year-old boy horsing around the school playground went to punch his brother, 7, who ducked under the drinking fountain. The older boy, Lewis Pierce, ended up slicing open his thumb on the fountain, and his mom sued the local council (which seems to be the British equivalent of  school district) for about 3000 pounds.

The mom won (yeah, I know), so the school appealed.

At the new trial, according to yesterday’s Daily Mail:

Iain O’Donnell [the school district’s lawyer], said schools might have to ban the fountains if Lewis was allowed to keep his pay-out, for fear of other potential claims.

He told the court that schools could never be completely free from hazards. ‘Any part of the premises, for example the corner of a brick wall, could be perceived as sufficiently sharp to cause a laceration if punched,’ he said.

The water fountain was ‘not unduly sharp to normal touch’ and Lewis’s injury was caused by his own ‘spontaneous and unpredictable act’, the Appeal Court heard.

[The Judge] Lady Justice Sharp said schools should take reasonable steps to ensure children’s safety, ‘bearing in mind that children are inclined to lark around’.

But she said they were not under a duty ‘to safeguard children in all circumstances’, adding: ‘The law would part company with common sense if that were the case.’

It’s weird that a victory for common sense should be so thrilling, but that it is. Let’s hope it’s the Sharp heard ’round the world. – L

CAUTION: Stand back 200 feet?

CAUTION: Object may be solid!

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32 Responses to Are Drinking Fountains Too Dangerous for Kids? (Surprising Legal Answer!)

  1. mystic_eye_cda October 17, 2013 at 12:35 pm #

    Let’s get rid of toilets, as kids could drown in them. I guess everyone will have to use diapers, though you could asphyxiate on those… hmm, well I guess if we ban kids from eating solid food they’d stop pooping, problem solved.

  2. Mary Kleppinger October 17, 2013 at 12:37 pm #

    What is a drinking fountain? In that another name for the machine that dispenses bottles of water?

  3. lollipoplover October 17, 2013 at 12:50 pm #

    So if the brother actually punched his brother (like he intended) and injured himself, would mom still sue? What about a wall? If he gets enraged and punches things, HE sounds like the danger, not the objects in his path.

    How about teaching kids consequences to their actions instead of blaming random objects that are in the path of your monster child? You punched a water fountain? Deal with the pain and consequences, moron. For every action there is a consequence and we do society no favors by not teaching our kids this. If there was a parent shaming list, this mom should be on it.

  4. QuicoT October 17, 2013 at 1:06 pm #

    just fyi, a council is more like a county government.

  5. Laura October 17, 2013 at 1:06 pm #

    As I understand it, the local councils in the UK are responsible for most government services; Education, housing, planning, social services, parks, waste management and others.

  6. Merrick October 17, 2013 at 1:10 pm #

    I work part time with toddlers. We have a collection of lovely, age appropriate toys and the kids still manage to injure themselves — we’ve had kids who (while throwing a tantrum) bashed their heads into the floor, or threw themselves in the walls. Kids who bit their own lips when tripping over their own feet. Kids who have been injured by throwing toys into the air and catching them with their faces… Perhaps we should get rid of the WALLS,the floors… and especially the CHILDREN.

    In high school, on three different occasions, my younger brother punched a metal locker and broke bones in his hand (yeah, he doesn’t learn very quickly LOL) … Thankfully my parents didn’t sue anyone and the only person punished was my brother.

  7. Lisa October 17, 2013 at 1:13 pm #

    sounds like a lovely family.
    Just wondering who the mom would have sued if her son had actually punched his brother (presumably also her son)instead of the drinking fountain. Glad the council got it right the second time.

  8. Ravana October 17, 2013 at 1:19 pm #

    My mom pushed her cousin into the drinking fountain when they were girls. Her cousin split her lip and chipped her tooth. There were no lawsuits. My mom’s parents made my mom spend her own money to buy her cousin a new blouse to replace the one spoiled by the blood though.

  9. Maggie October 17, 2013 at 1:29 pm #

    If he hit his brother, he could have lacerated his hand on his brother’s tooth. (seen it happen)

    Common sense says, teach the boy NOT TO HIT. Problem solved.

  10. Emily October 17, 2013 at 1:35 pm #

    Drinking fountains aren’t dangerous; gratuitous violence is.

  11. John October 17, 2013 at 1:51 pm #

    Of course, I do believe as any reasonable person would, it’s ridiculous and blatently wrong to put a Defense Lawyer in jail as Saudi Arabia and Iran does for something as simple and basic as defending womens’ rights. But in our Western societies, we are at the other extreme where Lawyers cause all sorts of real problems with frivolous lawsuits!

  12. Andrew October 17, 2013 at 1:51 pm #

    I remember a time when we used to count on the British to keep us sane. Now their as bat-crap crazy as we are.

  13. Kay October 17, 2013 at 2:05 pm #

    I’m trying to figure out how there was a sharp edge to a drinking fountain to begin with. Glad that the judge stopped this.

  14. Papilio October 17, 2013 at 2:09 pm #

    @Andrew: Yes, unfortunately (< sorry USA) the British are looking across the ocean to find the solution to all of their problems…

    @Mary Kleppinger: Google images is very helpful when it's about actual objects.

    @Quico T & Laura: thanks – that sounds more plausible than the school district thing.

  15. pentamom October 17, 2013 at 2:45 pm #

    It sounds like innocent horsing around between brothers so I don’t think it’s fair to call the older brother a danger or to talk about “gratuitous violence.” Brothers punch. Most of the time, it’s neither harmful nor meant to actually hurt.

    BUT, it’s just really weird that the kids horse around, one gets hurt, and the parents sue. It used to be that even though ordinary horsing around was tolerable, parents understood it was an “act stupid at your own risk” kind of thing. Had those been my kids, the outcome would have been a very brief telling off on “THAT’S why you don’t mess around indoors near furniture and stuff,” not suing someone else because a stupid kid got hurt acting like a stupid kid.

  16. pentamom October 17, 2013 at 2:51 pm #

    BTW, unless I’m mistaken, in Britain, schools are a function of local government. In the U.S. they’re an independent level of government with borders that frequently differ from local town borders. Usually a particular city or town will be either have the same borders as a school district, or be part of a larger one including other whole towns. I lived one place, though, where a single town was divided between three different school districts that also included other towns.

    I guess in some places in the U.S., though, school districts are contiguous with counties. I’m not sure if the actual county government runs the schools, or if it is like in my city, where there is a city government and also a separate city school district that covers the very same area.

  17. Mark Roulo October 17, 2013 at 3:23 pm #

    It is good to see the right thing happen.

    I *am* a bit surprised, however, that in the first go-around the mom won. I thought the British were saner than that.

    I thought this because the Princess Diana Memorial Playground in Hyde Park has the following sign posted:

    The facilities provided comply with European and British legislation. However it is now recognized that risk taking is an important element of play and physical development. Parents and caregivers must note that the design of this playground does allow for a degree of risk. THIS IS INTENTIONALLY PROVIDED SO YOUR CHILD CAN DEVELOP AN APPRECIATION OF RISK IN A CONTROLLED ENVIRONMENT RATHER THAN TAKING SIMILAR RISKS IN THE UNCONTROLLED AND UNREGULATED WIDER WORLD.

    [Emphasis of last sentence is mine.]

    Winning a lawsuit because your child punched a drinking fountain doesn’t fit well with the approach at the park :-)

  18. Crystal October 17, 2013 at 4:18 pm #

    We’re moving to the UK in 2 weeks. I was hoping to escape the sue-happy lifestyle of the US, but I guess no such luck.

  19. Suzanne October 17, 2013 at 4:44 pm #

    Yay!! Score 1 for sanity, may this be the beginning of many other rational verdicts.

  20. Gary October 17, 2013 at 4:48 pm #

    That’s what you get for telegraphing your moves…

    I would have gotten a “That’s what you get for trying to punch your brother” but only after the “WHY were you trying to punch your brother…”

    No other punishment would have been necessary as feeling like an idiot for whiffing on him would have been more than enough…ok, maybe a grounding, depends.

    But vengeance would have been mine, oh yes, vengeance would have been mine…

  21. Shelly Stow October 17, 2013 at 5:05 pm #

    “Children will lark around.” Oh, I love British English. And what a jolly good ruling this was!

  22. nancey October 17, 2013 at 5:42 pm #

    “Within a few hours of it being installed outside, Lewis was injured. It occurred in circumstances that should have been foreseeable.” It should have been forseen that two brothers would be involved in horseplay leading to injury because of the fountain?!?

  23. Kimberly October 17, 2013 at 8:55 pm #

    Yesterday one of my students was stung by a bee. My partner teacher was bringing them in from the playground and so him jump. She asked him if he was ok. He said oh a bee landed on me and scared me.

    During lunch, he told me I think the bee stung me. He pulled his shirt up and his shoulder was red and swollen. I knew nurse was on lunch. Since he wasn’t in massive pain, and he was breathing fine, I told him to eat his lunch while I find someone. A member of the core team walked through I called her over and told her that he had been stung. She got him some ice and went to get the nurse. Nurse called his parents. Because they have a family history of bad reactions, they decided to take him home and keep an eye on him. Treated just like it is something that happens to kids. (I did go and look in the breezeway for any nest – because we get a lot of paper wasps and mud dobbers (which don’t sting) making nest on the lights.

    Then today my coworker got a call her 2 year old had jumped off some play equipment at daycare and bitten through her lip. They had got her calmed down and were applying pressure. Coworker quickly set up for a sub. I skipped lunch so we could have 3 teachers on the playground. Coworker went an took the little one to the doctor. No stitches, no concussion – no hysterics. The doctor asked the girl – are you going to do that again she told him YES. Which everyone found funny. I swear her 5 yo sister was the most upset.

    I had a 2nd grader do the same thing last year (except he slipped climbing up a ladder. He got a couple of stitches. Parents reaction was kids will be kids no-one did anything wrong.

    This probably happens daily on some playground at some school. The majority of parents don’t go ballistic.

  24. AlanaM October 17, 2013 at 10:27 pm #

    Not quite related but my son and I went biking on a bike path a long way. Neither of us brought bottled water so (oh horrors) we had to drink from a fountain at the halfway point. My son, 11, drank first and said ooo that is horrible. I tasted it next expecting it to be hot but instead it was a bit metallic. I said, yes this is the water from fountains of my childhood. You’ll survive. And he did!

  25. KH October 17, 2013 at 10:30 pm #

    Must admit, I was very surprised a British mother would sue– my British friends are always telling me only Americans do that… But hey, let’s focus on the good news– there are still sane judges left in the western world!

    (Also–Mark, thanks for posting the playground warning. Grounds for hope…)

  26. J.T. Wenting October 18, 2013 at 1:18 am #

    local council in Britain is the administrative body of a village or small town.

    Schools fall under them, as do public parks, parking lots, etc.

  27. Andy October 18, 2013 at 8:45 am #

    @KH Every nation has crazies and every nation has people willing to sue other. The differences are only in how the law system deals with it whether it encourage or discourage it.

  28. Earth.W October 18, 2013 at 11:34 pm #

    We better be attaching bouncy foam to bricks and everything with corners.

  29. Earth.W October 18, 2013 at 11:37 pm #

    Many British schools have made competitive sports illegal in school and parents are banned from watching their kiddies being involved so stop competition being encouraged.

  30. Andrew October 20, 2013 at 6:05 pm #

    Rather than relying on the Daily Mail – a tabloid newspaper, and often not the most reliable of sources – here is the official judgment from the appeal: http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2013/1230.html

    From the appeal, it seems clear that the judge at first instance just got it wrong. This type of drinking fountain has been installed in around 8,000 other schools and colleges (estimated as 20% of the schools in England and Wales) with no other reported injuries of this or indeed any other type. It is not sharp or dangerous, not even to children, unless you punch it. The moral of the story is surely to avoid punching your brother or indeed inanimate objects.

  31. Jay October 21, 2013 at 8:33 am #

    You know, I remember chipping my front tooth on a metal bar on the jungle gym when I was around six or seven years old.

    Did my parents raise hell? You bet they did!

    “Serves you right for not paying attention to what you were doing!” LOL

  32. RobC October 22, 2013 at 1:24 am #

    Lenore, if you want to maintain the respect and credibility you’ve built up after years of doing this, please, please, PLEASE stop using the Daily Mail as a source. For anything.