I am attending college in Wisconsin and I had my backpack leaning against the side of my desk. It was on the edge of the walkway between desks in the class room.

Somebody walking by kicked my backpack hard enough to bend the USB ports so much I can't plug anything into them. Now my laptop won't turn on.

I saw them do it, but I didn't get a look at their face at the time since I didn't think it was anything but a harmless accident. However, I took my laptop out that class, and I'm sure many people saw it wasn't functioning.

I asked my professor if she had seen who did it, and she gave me their name and email.

This is the first time I have been in this sort of situation. I am looking for somebody to tell me if there's anything I can do, and how to handle this situation.

  • 2
    You call the police and report a crime. Anything else is vigilantism and is far more likely to get you injured and/or arrested than them.
    – user4657
    Commented Dec 4, 2018 at 22:58
  • @nij What if they didn't mean to kick it? Commented Dec 4, 2018 at 22:59
  • 1
    Civil remedies are even more complicated and require your own legal advice, which is thoroughly off-topic here.
    – user4657
    Commented Dec 4, 2018 at 23:01
  • @nij Sorry about that! I didn't know. I have flagged the question. Commented Dec 4, 2018 at 23:02
  • 1
    Is it your laptop (purchased personally) or provided through the school?
    – Ron Beyer
    Commented Dec 4, 2018 at 23:46

2 Answers 2


Small claims court is a simple way to litigate money claims, as this would be. One side would argue that the other party owes them money; the other side would dispute the claim. In general, a person does it have the right to damage another person's property, so if B damaged your property, you might have a valid claim. The advantage of small claims court is that it's quicker and cheaper. However, one may need to hire an attorney anyhow, in order to correctly present your claim that B should be made to pay.

If you can prove that B maliciously kicked your backpack in order to cause you damage, the matter will probably be resolved easily in your favor. More likely, this was an accident (that was what you thought), so now the question is whether this was negligence on their part, or on your part. B's negligence could have been in not using ordinary care when walking, your negligence would be in putting the backpack in the walkway. The judge would listen to your explanation of the surrounding facts, and then lay blame. In Wisconsin, the judge would compare the contribution of the two parties and come up with a percentage. In this situation, B would not have a basis for counter-suing you, which simplifies the matter a bit. If you more than 50% responsible for the damage, you cannot recover from B. If you are found to be e.g. 49% responsible and the defendant is 51%, then he is liable for 51% of the damage that you have suffered.

If you consult with an attorney, they can give you a good estimate of the likelihood that you'll lose on the grounds that your negligence was greater than B's.

  • You might want to suggest negotiating before litigating
    – Dale M
    Commented Dec 5, 2018 at 4:41
  • I'm not giving legal advice, I am stating what the legal situation is. The OP's attorney would give advice: my only advice is, talk to an attorney.
    – user6726
    Commented Dec 5, 2018 at 5:34

You could indeed report the incident as a crime, as one comment suggests. You could sue in small claims, as the answer by user6726 describes. But before doing either of those you might want to simply talk with the person who did this. If it truly was an accident, that person may be willing to compensate or partly compensate you without any legal action being taken.

  • Thanks, I will do that first of course. I don't want to be a jerk. Commented Dec 5, 2018 at 0:45
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    IANAL, but there is another element to consider - the burden of proof. Absent evidence admission from this person that they caused the damage, it appears all you have is second hand information from the teacher - which is likely inadmissible if all you have is a name and email on a piece of paper. I expect that things might get a bit messy at the first hurdle of proving they are the offending party. (is it worth hauling a teacher to court to testify over this ?)
    – davidgo
    Commented Dec 5, 2018 at 1:49
  • 1
    @davidgo If this went to court, civil or criminal, witness testimony would presumably be needed. he teacher is the only witness mentioned in the question, but thr could be others. I don't see why the teacher's testimony would not be admissible. A hearsay statement "my teacher said that he saw..." would not be, i would think. Commented Dec 5, 2018 at 20:39
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    @DavidSiegel Fully agreed - but the OP may not be aware that he can't just rely on the teachers note as proof, and forcing the teacher into a tribunal/courtroom to testify may not be worth the "social" cost to him, and is something I would have wanted to know prior to appearing at a tribunal.
    – davidgo
    Commented Dec 5, 2018 at 21:02

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