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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

ADULTS SUPERVISING GUEST CHILDREN CAN BE LIABLE FOR NEGLIGENCE AND WRONGFUL DEATH

Last month, the Supreme Court of Virginia held, for the first time ever, that when a parent relinquishes the supervision and care of a child to an adult who agrees to supervise and care for the child, the supervising adult has a duty in tort to exercise reasonable care in the supervision of that child. Kellerman v. McDonough, et al.

In Kellerman, the father of a 14 year old girl from North Carolina (Jaimee) dropped his daughter off in Virginia to visit her friend (Becka). Before leaving, the father instructed Becka’s mother that Jaimee was not to ride in cars with inexperienced drivers. He specifically said: “No boys with cars”.

Later that day, Becka’s mother was supposed to pick up the children, but instead agreed that a 17 year old teenager (Nate) could drive the children home. The girls left the shopping mall in Nate’s car. He began to drive extremely recklessly. He lost control of his car and it slammed into a tree, killing Jaimee. Jaimee’s father brought a wrongful death lawsuit on Jaimee’s behalf against Becka’s mother, claiming that she was responsible for Jaimee’s death. The lower court dismissed the case for failing to state a cause of action. The Virginia Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s ruling.

The Virginia Supreme Court held, for the first time ever, that there is a common law duty in Virginia for adults to use reasonable care in supervising child guests. Accordingly, adults that fail to exercise reasonable care in supervising guest children can be liable in tort for injuries to the guest children, even if those injuries are directly caused by the actions of third parties (such as Nate).

The impact of this ruling can be quite substantial. According to the dissent, the ruling implicitly makes the host parent “the virtual insurer of the guest child’s safety”. While this remains to be seen, adults that supervise child guests are now more likely to be named as defendants in lawsuits stemming from injuries to child guests (even if directly caused by third parties).

The above article is not meant to replace legal counsel. If you'd like to speak to an attorney, please contact Gross & Romanick by calling 703-273-1400 or emailing law@gross.com