A small news item in the papers a few weeks ago caught my attention. A young man named Tom Hansen, 25, decided to sue his parents for $350,000 damages because he thinks his family failed to rear him right. He claims that, because his father and mother failed to raise him in the correct manner, he may have to have psychiatric treatment for the rest of his life.
Hansen's lawyer in Boulder, Colo., John Taussig Jr., said the suit alleges that the parents were guilty of wilful and wanton neglect. "Basically what we are doing is bringing a suit of mal-practice of parenting," Taussig said.
All over America children will be watching the outcome of the suit. If Hansen wins in court, it will open up an entire new legal situation, and may force most parents to take out very expensive malpractice insurance at the moment they produce a son or daughter. This would raise the cost of bringing up a child even higher than it is now, and it may discourage young couples from having children.
Many kids, when they reach puberty, blame their parents for everything that has gone wrong in their lives, but most of them get over it when they grow up. But if the verdict goes in favor of Hansen, they will be encouraged to seek out a lawyer and demand damages for cruel and unusual punishment, which might include making them come home at a certain time, requiring them to clean up their own rooms, do the dishes, and inflicting lifelong traumas by forcing them to do their homework.
Phillip Colburn, who lives in Los Angeles, is terribly concerned about the problem and told me on the phone, "If children are permitted to sue their parents for malpractice in parenting, why can't parents sue their children for mental anguish, misappropriation of family funds, slander and misuse of the family car.?"
I told him it sounded fair to me.
He said, "Most parents have aspirations and unfulfilled dreams about their children. During the teen-age of their offspring, many fathers and mothers are forced into going to a psychiatrist. Others become permanently deaf from their son's or daughter's stereo systems. Many parents suffer ulcers and nervous disorders waiting for their children to come home from a school dance. Still others go into deep depression when they discover pot in their children's pockets. If our kids are going to sue us for what we've done to them, then we should be allowed to seek damages for what they've done to us."
"It could be a class-action suit," I suggested. "That way we could all save on legal costs."
"Parents don't ask too much of their children when they grow up . . . maybe an occasional telephone call to tell us they're okay, a kind word when they come home for a visit, a few grandchildren to bring us joy in our old age. If they can't do that, then I think we should bring legal action against them."
"You better believe it," I said. "There are a lot more disappointed parents in this country than there are disappointed children."
"I also believe that if we've sent them to college, and paid $40,000 out of our own pockets to educate them, they should be able to read and write or else give us our money back."
Colburn and I both agreed that if the judge ruled in Hansen's favor, and the Supreme Court upheld the decision that children could sue their parents for malpractice, it would make parenthood a whole new ball game.
"The next time my kid asks for $10 to go to a rock concert and I refuse to give it to her and she screams bloody murder," Colburn said, "I'm going to tell her, 'sue me.'"