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Students may have to pay for sprinkler damage at Va. school

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By Michael Alison Chandler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 15, 2010

An impromptu soccer game in the spring between two Arlington County students in their high school's hallway led to a tripped sprinkler system, a flooded gym and more than $150,000 in damage that they might have to pay for.

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The school system's insurance company, Hartford, Conn.-based Travelers, investigated the May 13 incident and found the Washington-Lee High School students' behavior to be negligent. The company is seeking compensation from the insurer of at least one student's family, school officials said.

After the stray ball hit a sprinkler and set off the system that evening, an on-call engineer and the Arlington Fire Department were alerted to shut it off. Schools spokeswoman Linda Erdos said she did not know how long the water rained down in the hallway before it could be stopped.

Construction workers are replacing more than half of the gymnasium floor, causing some summer campers to be relocated.

The four-story, nearly $100 million facility opened its doors two years ago.

The practice of insurance companies attempting to recoup damages is commonplace -- whether from the person who rear-ended their customer's car or from the neighbor whose unpruned, dead tree branches crashed through a roof.

Students are often held financially responsible for repairing property they vandalize, insurance industry analysts said. Cases tend to be far more complicated when the damage stems from an accident.

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