A recent case arose when a Maine thirteen-year-old boy was seriously hurt after skateboarding out of a driveway and getting hit by a car. The boy lived with his parents, but spent time at another couple’s house in the same town. He often hung out in the other couple’s garage and smoked cigarettes they gave him. His parents did not know about the couple.
In May of 2009, the boy went to hang out in the garage during the day with a friend. Although the young boys left, they returned to the couple’s home a little later, at a time when the couple had been consuming alcohol. The husband said the boys could come in to watch television. A little later, the boys asked for permission to sleep over. Later the wife agreed that, because of her drinking, she should have said no since she was not in a condition to supervise the boys.
The boy phoned his mother and claimed he wanted to spend the night at another friend’s house. The woman phoned the mother and lied that she was the other friend’s mother. The boy’s mother consequently agreed, not realizing the boy would be spending the night with the couple, essentially complete strangers. The couple subsequently fell asleep, and the boy left the house at 1:00 a.m., returning a few hours later.
The next morning, the boy went home and his mother thought he looked tired. He left home again with his skateboard, claiming he was going to see a friend. He went back to the couple’s house and was hit by a motorist while riding down their driveway. He was unable to remember the accident afterward.
The motorist didn’t see the boy until after she felt the impact from within her car. She wasn’t sure why she didn’t see him, although she speculated it was the trees. The couple had lived on the property for decades. There was a crabapple tree on the property. Its foliage didn’t make it hard to see the driveway, but it also didn’t get trimmed. There was also a bush that the wife trimmed each spring. It was about three feet high when the accident occurred.
The boy’s parents filed suit against the couple. They alleged negligent supervision and that the other couple had negligently created dangerous topographical conditions that contributed to the boy’s accident and injuries. The other couple filed for summary judgment. The trial court granted the motion.
The boy’s parents appealed. The mother claimed the boy couldn’t remember the accident because he was tired from the unauthorized sleepover. The husband of the other couple claimed he had seen the boy leave their property. He thought the boy had left around 7:00 a.m. and that the accident happened about thirty minutes later. There were several inconsistencies in his recollection. The boy’s parents argued that this was a fact in dispute and that therefore summary judgment was improper.
The appellate court explained that, to survive summary judgment, the boy’s parents would have had to present a prima facie case for each element of their negligent supervision claim.
The mother had argued that the trial court was wrong that the couple’s custody of the boy had ended when he returned home. The appellate court explained the negligent supervision tort required the defendant to have a special relationship with the plaintiff, such as a custodial one. A custodial relationship exists between those who are required by law to take physical custody of another or who voluntarily do so, which deprives the other of his normal opportunity for protection.
The appellate court explained that the couple created the custodial relationship and assumed a duty to the boy, but it was limited to that sleepover. The special relationship ended when the boy went home. The boy’s parents subsequently allowed him to leave without adult supervision.
The parents also argued that the couple had failed to ensure that the boy got enough sleep at the sleepover. The court declined to find that, by law, the couple was required to ensure the boy got enough sleep. The court also declined to find that the couple had a duty to trim the vegetation on their property. Although the couple had acted unconscionably, the appellate court affirmed summary judgment.
If you or your child is hurt due to another’s negligence, you may need the help of an experienced personal injury attorney to fight for the compensation you deserve. At Briggs & Wholey, our knowledgeable attorneys are available to answer any questions you may have. To schedule a free consultation with an experienced advocate, please contact Briggs & Wholey, LLC at (888) 596-1099 or through our website today.
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