A parent who heard the dad of her daughter’s 14-year-old friend expressly say, “No boys with cars,” must face a wrongful death claim filed by the girl’s estate, the Supreme Court of Virginia said today.
The dad, Michael Kellermann, sued Paul and Paula McDonough after his daughter Jaimee died in an automobile accident in December 2004. Jaimee, who had moved from Henrico County to North Carolina, was spending the night at the invitation of the McDonoughs. When Kellermann brought Jaimee to the McDonoughs, he allegedly told Paula McDonough that Jaimee was not allowed to ride with inexperienced drivers, especially young male drivers, a rule they enforced at home. He alleges Paula McDonough promised they would take care of Jaimee.
Kellerman alleged that despite those assurances, Paula dropped the girls off at the mall for a movie and expressly authorized them to get a ride home from a 17-year-old boy who had a reputation for reckless driving and street racing.
An Henrico County Circuit dismissed the claim filed by the parents of the girl who died, but the Supreme Court said in a 54-page opinion released this morning that the McDonoughs had a common law duty to supervise and care for Jaimee and Kellermann could sue them for negligence.
The majority opinion by Chief Justice Leroy R. Hassell Sr. cautioned that a supervisor parent is “not an insurer of the child’s safety,” but must act as a reasonably prudent person would under similar circumstances.
The high court also held in Kellermann v. McDonough that Jaime’s father could sue Paula McDonough, but not her husband, for Paula’s assumption of a duty to Jaimee. However, the Supreme Court declined to recognize a “special relationship” for an adult who agreed to supervise and provide care to a minor.
Justices Lawrence Koontz and Cynthia Kinser filed dissents. Koontz said the majority opinion “implicitly makes the host parent the virtual insurer of the guest child’s safety.”
Kinser took issue with the majority’s response to the way Kellerman framed his suit, saying he had asserted only two theories of liability, assumption of duty and special relationship, not a common law duty of care. But Kinser agreed Kellermann had a claim against Paula McDonough.
By Deborah Elkins