I was waiting to argue a case in the Virginia Supreme Court last week, and an interesting case relating to child safety was argued in front of me. The name is Michael H. Kellermann, Administrator, etc. v. Paul Mcdonough, et al., and the Court will make a decision about it in June, but I wanted to hear what people thought.
Since there has not been an opinion yet, I had to figure out what the facts were from the oral argument. It appears that the Mcdonough’s invited Jaimee Kellermann, a fourteen year old girl, to their house to have a sleepover with their daughter. Jaimee’s parents agreed to let her go on the condition that the Mcdonough’s not let Jaimee ride in any cars with teenagers, because they knew that accident rates are much higher for new drivers, especially when there are other teenagers in the car. Before leaving her child with the family, Jaimee’s mother said that she didn’t want her child riding in cars with other teens, and the Mcdonough’s agreed to this condition.
The girls went to see a movie. After the movie, the Mcdonough’s daughter called her mother. and asked if they could get a ride home with some teenaged boys. The mother agreed. The car in which Jaimee was riding was apparently struck by another vehicle, and she was tragically killed.
Jaimee’s parents brought a lawsuit, alleging that the Mcdonough’s knowingly broke their promise about not letting Jaimee ride in a car with other teens, and as a result their oldest daughter was killed. The lower court threw the case out on the basis that the Mcdonough’s did not have a legal duty to protect Jaimee is such a situation.
From the questions asked by the Justices, it appeared that they felt that parents hosting sleepovers ordinarily shouldn’t be liable for injuries to their guests. What they focused on, however, was the specific request made by Jaimee’s mother about not allowing the girls to ride in cars with other teens, and the agreement by the Mcdonoughs. This seemed to create an issue for some of the Justices – while ordinarily parents wouldn’t be liable, if they affirmatively agree to do something to keep another child safe, and then knowingly don’t do it, then maybe they should be legally responsible. The Court will decide the issue in June, so check back to find out what happens.
I’m conflicted on this. I personally don’t think parents should ordinarily be able to sue if their child accidently gets hurt while a guest at someone else’s house, but this might be a unique situation. What do other people think?
By the way, before people begin attacking Jaimee’s parents for bringing this lawsuit, please understand that there is no way people who have not lost a child can understand their grief and anger. It’s easy to say what you would or wouldn’t do in such a situation, but until it happens to you (and god willing it never will), you can never really know what you’d do. My guess is they’re bringing the lawsuit to change the law so maybe other parents will not have to go through the incredible tragedy they have experienced.