Should a Mother Be Liable If Her Child Vomits on a Louis Vuitton Handbag?

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(Via Giphy)

This story got lost in the news cycle since the election, but the extent of one’s liability for a child’s vomit has become a pressing issue for one British mother who was on a very turbulent airplane ride recently, and her young child got terribly sick and threw up from all the bouncing. The mother said she and her partner cleaned everything up, but after the flight, a woman came up and told them that some of the vomit had gotten on her handbag, and that she expected them to replace it. The kicker is that it’s a Louis Vuitton handbag allegedly worth $1,100. When a child vomits on Louis Vuitton, who’s responsible?

This story combines two of the world’s favorite topics: People with expensive things, and children on airplanes, so opinions are strong and harshly divided as to whether or not the kid’s mother should pay.

According to The Daily Mail, the mother said she was flying on a long-haul flight when the turbulence made her son sick. Economy class sucks. The parents cleaned up the mess, but later the woman in the seat behind the mother’s said that some of the vomit had traveled under the seat to her row and gotten on her handbag. The parents apologized profusely, but the woman reportedly said, “No, it’s on my handbag. It’s very expensive, and you need to get your insurance to pay for it to be replaced or cleaned.” She told them it was a Louis Vuitton bag, and it was worth $1,100. (I know it’s snobby, but as soon as I heard this story I knew it would be a Louis Vuitton bag. If you told me a stranger walked right up to you and told you her bag cost $1,200, I’d say, “Was it Louis Vuitton?”)

The parents said they saw no damage on the bag and took a lot of pictures of it to confirm that it looked fine and there was no vomit anywhere on it, but they seem to have agreed to pay to have the bag cleaned anyway, because they gave the woman their email address. But later they got an email from the woman, who said she’d taken her bag to a Louis Vuitton store, and the salespeople told her that the smell of vomit was “ingrained” in the bag and it couldn’t be cleaned, and that instead of having the bag cleaned, the parents would have to buy her a new one. For $1,100. The woman reportedly asked them to send her the money to buy a brand-new bag instead.

It’s worth noting that the woman’s Louis Vuitton is not a leather handbag, it’s coated canvas with a leather strap. The coated canvas is very long-wearing and comparatively easy to clean. It’s pretty resilient stuff, at least from the outside. Also, Louis Vuitton does not offer in-house cleaning services for handbags and hasn’t for several years now, so I’m a bit skeptical of the woman’s story about the LV salespeople.

The worried mother provided copious photos of the bag, and while the vomit is not visible, the handbag in the photos is obviously not a new bag and already very well-worn. This is what the new one looks like:

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The bag in question is photographed extensively on The Daily Mail. There’s no vomit visible, but it’s obviously not a new handbag.

A brand-new bag costs $1,100 at the store, but this lady’s bag is so worn the leather strap has gone all floppy and is a completely different color, and the coated canvas looks dingy. The interior is also pretty filthy. The owner should have had that bag cleaned a long time ago. She’d probably be lucky to get $500 for it on eBay in this condition (on eBay, this model of bag seems to sell for $400-700 used, depending on condition), so it’s not reasonable for the woman to demand the full cost of a brand new replacement from the child’s parents, especially since there are oodles of that model on the resale market.

Normally I’m fully in the “if your kid damages something, you pay for it” camp. (Just ask me why I own a stupid plywood Christmas tree with the star broken off the top.) If the woman had been happy having her bag cleaned, I would have been on her side, even if the classier thing to do would be to just roll with the damage and accept it as the cost of traveling with expensive goods. In that story, everyone was being pretty reasonable. “Kid throws up near designer handbag; parents pay to have bag cleaned” is a normal thing to happen on both sides.

But since the woman is apparently pushing to get a brand-new Louis Vuitton bag out of these parents, I no longer have any real sympathy for her. At this point I don’t even really believe that there’s a smell. Did she try sitting it in baking soda for a day or so? Another option is to put the bag in the freezer for a couple days to kill any remaining bacteria. (That also works for fur, leather, and denim. I rode horses for 20 years and I’ve spent a lot of time getting grotesque effluvia out of high-end leather. There’s a lot you can do.) Asking for the bag to be cleaned was fair, asking for the full cost of a brand-new replacement for her very old bag is like demanding to be given the price of a 2017 BMW because your 2006 one got damaged.