by JEANNE FLEMING, PH.D. and LEONARD SCHWARZ
Question: My seven-year-old son and our neighbors’ son were roughhousing at our neighbors’ home when my son accidentally broke their new high-def TV. I replaced the set. Shouldn’t our neighbors have offered to pay for half, since they ought to have been keeping a closer eye on the kids?
Answer: You’re right that you are on the hook for the loss. Parents are responsible for the damage that their children do, and the fact that your neighbors could have monitored the boys more closely doesn’t outweigh that responsibility. At age seven, your son should have learned - from you - not to engage in horseplay in the vicinity of expensive, breakable items and to be especially careful in someone else’s home.
That said, assuming your homeowners insurance didn’t cover the cost of a new TV, your neighbors should have offered to split the bill. It takes two to roughhouse, and it was just bad luck that your child was the one who actually broke the set.
Getting these folks to refund part of the tab is another matter. Our guess is that they’re not likely to look kindly on being presented with an after-the-fact bill. But it can’t hurt to point out to them that your son had a partner in crime. After all, be it in the family room or the courtroom, accomplices bear some responsibility when damage has been done. Good luck with your neighbors - and good luck civilizing the offspring as well.
Questions? Email Money Magazine’s ethicists – authors of “Isn’t It Their Turn to Pick Up the Check?” (Free Press) – at FlemingandSchwarz@right-thing.net.