For the second time in the same personal injury lawsuit, the Virginia Supreme Court has ruled that adults have a “common law” legal duty to exercise reasonable care when they agree to supervise another family’s child–even if the child is harmed by someone else.
Jaimee Kellermann, age 14, tragically died when the car in which she was a passenger–driven by a 17-year-old boy with an alleged reputation for reckless behavior–slammed into a tree after traveling 80 miles per hour near Richmond. Jaimee, a resident at the time of North Carolina at the time had arranged to sleep over the home of her friend Becka McDonough in Henrico County. Becka’s parents apparently promised Jaimee’s father that the family would abide by his one rule: “no boys with cars.”
Mr. Kellerman subsequently sued the McDonoughs for $15 million in civil damages for wrongful death. The case reached the Virginia Supreme Court after the lawsuit was thrown out by a Henrico County judge. In July, the state Supreme Court in a 5-2 decision overruled the lower court judge and reinstated the case for trial.
In September, the court unexpectedly withdrew its July opinion. However, after a rehearing in October, the court once again–in another 5-2 opinion released on November 5–again decided to send the case down for a full trial on the merits in Henrico County Circuit Court.
“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,” Chief Justice Leroy R. Hassell, Sr. explained in the majority opinion. “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.”
As quoted at DailyPress.com, Mark J. Krudys, the lawyer representing Jaimee’s father, said the Supreme Court “memorialized what most parents already feel: that when they have a young child in their care, they should exercise caution. I would have frankly been very saddened if the court did not find there is such a duty.”
It remains to be seen if the plaintiff’s evidence will hold up at trial, which is expected sometime next summer. But InjuryBoard.com suggests that “the Virginia Supreme Court has affirmed a high degree of liability for responsible adults in protecting children from the actions of other people.”
Most Virginia motorists drive responsibly, fortunately. However, car accidents brought about by distracted, reckless, or impaired drivers of all ages sadly cause serious injuries or death every day on Virginia’s roads. If you–or someone you love–have been injured in a Virginia automobile accident, do not hesitate to get in touch with the Personal Injury lawyers at the Law Offices of Richard J. Serpe, P.C., Toll Free 877-544-5323, for a no-obligation consultation.