A new Virginia Supreme Court ruling could expand the potential liability for adults in the state who supervise their children’s friends–even if the injury is cause by a third party.
According to press accounts and court documents, the parents of Becka McDonough invited 14-year-old Jaimee Kellermann, Becka’s friend and former classmate (prior to the Kellermanns’ move to North Carolina), to sleep over their Henrico County home. As a condition, however, Mr. Kellermann apparently insisted that Becka’s mother abide by one rule: “no boys with cars.” He emphasized that Jaimee was not to be in a car with any young, male drivers. Becka’s mother allegedly said not to worry and that she would take good care of Jaimee.
Mrs. McDonough, however, allowed the girls to get a ride home from a movie with a 17-year-old male with a questionable-at-best driving record. Driving at a high rate of speed, the male lost control of the car, and slammed into a tree near Richmond. Tragically, Jaimee was killed. The driver was charged with manslaughter according to media accounts.
Jaimee’s father filed a lawsuit against the McDonoughs for civil damages. A Henrico County judge threw out the case, and an appeal followed.
In a 5-2 opinion released on July 17, the Virginia Supreme Court overruled the lower court, sending Kellermann’s complaint against the other family to a full trial. “We hold that when a parent relinquishes the supervision and care of a child to an adult who agrees to supervise and care for that child, the supervising adult must discharge that duty with reasonable care. However, such adult who agrees to supervise and care for a child upon the relinquishment of that care and supervision by the child’s parent is not an insurer of the child’s safety. Rather, the supervising adult must discharge his or her duties as a reasonably prudent person would under similar circumstances,” the majority opinion explained.
The high court’s decision doesn’t decide the case on the merits, however; it serves to allow the evidence to go to a jury as to whether the other family should be held liable. It remains to be seen whether Kellermann can prevail at trial in alleging that the McDonoughs negligently failed to exercise reasonable care in this circumstance.
If you–or someone you love–have been injured in an automobile accident, do not hesitate to get in touch with the Personal Injury lawyers at the Law Office of Richard J Serpe, PC.
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