As the parent of teenagers, when they have guests sleepover, I will no longer get any sleep. The Virginia Supreme Court has just ruled that even when kids leave our home, we may be held responsible for the harm or injuries that may occur.
Nearly 5 years ago, the father of a 14-year old girl dropped her off at a sleepover. He explained to the mother a rule that he enforced with his daughter at home, “no boys with cars”, and asked her to respect that rule. She insisted the girl would be safe and they parted ways.
But the host mother dropped the girls at the mall, and asked them to get a ride home from a 17-year old boy who had a driving record that would be worrisome to any parent. The young girl was killed in a car accident that night, and the grieving parents are suing for wrongful death.
But the real question is whether adults who agree to supervise and keep the child safe owe a duty to exercise responsible care and possibly take actions in the supervision of that child.
The case was dismissed in trial court, so the parents appealed to the Virginia Supreme Court. The justices insisted the parents have a case, as the majority opinion said the dead girl’s family could bring their lawsuit. Now they have a second chance in trial court because the Supreme Court held the host parents could be held responsible for the child’s safety as the result of the promise. While the Defendant parents were not "insurers" of their guests safety, they do have a duty to act with reasonable care under the circumstances, such that if the evidence shows that they breached this duty, they may be held liable for damages by a jury at trial.