There is a polish short story ("Z pamiętnika poznańskiego nauczyciela"), where basically there is a child named Mike.

His mother sent him to school in another city under supervision of a private teacher. Mike was living with the teacher with rare letters to his mother as the only means of communication. Mike wasn't doing well at school and spent long time unsuccessfully studying to make his mother happy. The teacher didn't tell her that Mike had difficulties at school, because they both thought it could be dangerous considering her serious health problems after death of Mike's dad and her hopes in her son.

One time Mike studied at night with the window open and got deadly ill. The teacher didn't want to worry his mother, but finally couldn't hide the truth and she was there when Mike died.

Who is here to blame? Would anyone be convinced of murder if this had really happened in modern Europe? I'm not asking for extremely precise information, just rough estimates, so I believe the country isn't important.

  • Does the story presume that "night air is bad air" or some other reason that studying at night with the window might lead to illness; also, how old was Mike?
    – sharur
    Commented Oct 20, 2017 at 18:59
  • Issues of moral responsibility are to be asked at Philosophy. Questions of criminal or civil liability are legal questions. If we add facts to your scenario, a (fictitious) case could be made that this was murder; otherwise it is at most a question of duty of care, or lecal child negligence laws (where the country matters quite a bit).
    – user6726
    Commented Oct 20, 2017 at 19:00
  • @sharur Just cold air, and Mike was physically weak due to high stress and no time to exercise. He was 11. Commented Oct 20, 2017 at 19:03

2 Answers 2


Often there are three kinds of homicide although the grading of homicide offenses actually differs quite a bit from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and often there are special statutes specifically covering deaths caused by child abuse and neglect.

The most serious form of criminal homicide is intentional murder which is often called "murder" in English.

A less serious form of criminal homicide involves reckless conduct or conduct in a sudden spurt of rage. This is often called "manslaughter" although the terminology in English varies much more for this offense. This is still a very serious offense typically on a par with forcible rape or aggravated assault or attempted murder.

A less serious form still is criminally negligent homicide which involves "gross negligence" or neglect. When children are involved, it is often classified as "child abuse" or "child neglect" and frequently is punished more harshly than criminally negligent homicide directed at a stranger. This would typically be a middling to low grade felony.

Even if criminal charges are not justified, often a teacher in this situation might lose a license or have a teaching license suspended for a period of time.

The teacher might also be subject to civil liability in a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the mother. In England, the standard of liability would probably be "negligence" although sometimes negligence is presumed when a third party is caring for a child as a substitute parent. In most of continental Europe there would generally be liability if the teacher was "at fault" although the doctrine that goes into establishing if someone was "at fault" would be rather involved and wouldn't be entirely uniform from country to country.

In a modern setting, the fact that the kid got sick in these circumstances, per se, would probably not amount to even civil negligence or fault.

The key factor for civil and criminal liability would be whether the teacher took medically appropriate steps to address the illness, and there would be liability of some kind if the teacher failed to do so when it should have been apparent that treatment was necessary.

Indeed, failing to seek appropriate care when it was obvious that it was necessary and the care would have made a difference, might very well even constitute criminal child neglect, criminal negligence, or give rise to civil liability. But, since the story focuses on how the boy got sick and not what the teacher did or did not do to treat the boy's illness, we don't know enough to determine the teacher's civil or criminal liability.


Short version of the story:

Child gets sick and dies unintentionally/accidentally, but perhaps through negligence.

You're asking if its MURDER?
Murder requires intent, which is clearly absent.
At most, there could be manslaughter (and even that sounds like a stretch to me)

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