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Wrongful Death Suit Reinstated in Virginia (VA) Against Parents Hosting Visting Teen

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Courts and juries can find adults who have temporary supervision or custody of children liable for injuries to those children even when the harm resulted from the actions of someone other than the supervising adults.

Summarizing this Nov. 5, 2009, ruling by the Virginia Supreme Court in a single sentence is difficult. As is all-too clear above.

What the ruling means for babysitters, parents who allow their children’s friends to sleep over or spend other long periods visiting, or teachers and care providers is that they can be found to have a legal and civil duty to protect other people’s children even when the children are not physically with the babysitter, host, teacher or caregiver.

Virginia’s High Court voted 5-2 to support this interpretation of adults’ child care responsibilities and liability when partially reversing a lower court’s ruling that Richmond-area parents could not be held liable for the death of a North Carolina (NC) who was spending the night at their home.

The lawsuit stemming from the car crash death of 14-year-old Jaimee Elizabeth Kellerman now returns to a Virginia circuit court. In 2005, Kellerman died when a car she was riding in and which was being driven recklessly by 17-year-old Nathan DeFrank ran off a rural highway and hit a tree. Kellerman had permission from her parents to sleep over at the home of Paul and Paula McDonough. But, according to a Daily Press report, Kellerman’s parents had specifically asked the McDonoughs not to let Jaimee ride with "boys with cars."

The Kellerman family is seeking $15 million from the McDonoughs in a wrongful death suit for being negligent in protecting Jaimee.

I cannot speculate on the outcome of the reinstated lawsuit, but I can say the Virginia Supreme Court has affirmed a high degree of liability for responsible adults in protecting children from the actions of other people. Broad determinations of liabilities are not rare, especially in regards to wrongful death claims. In light of this, and particularly the ruling in the Kellerman case, I can only advise adults asked to supervise minors (i.e., anyone under 18 years of age) to exercise the greatest care in ensuring those children’s safety–a rule nearly all parents already follow but one which this tragic case underscores..

About the Editors: The Shapiro, Cooper, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm, whose attorneys work out of offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard, and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as pro bono services.

EJL