JANUARY 10, 2017:
As an Aventura Personal Injury Attorney, negligence cases surrounding children are frequently a challenge, for the question invariably arises pertaining to the liability of parents for the actions of their child. Naturally, a minor can be held liable for negligence, but rarely does a child have the resources to satisfy a judgment in favor of an injured person. Consequently, accident lawyers are always finding ways to implicate the parents in the lawsuit assuming adequate grounds exist. Nevertheless, Florida courts have ruled on this issue many times in the past, including just recently in late 2016.
In William Perez and Marcia Perez v. Enrique Rodriguez and Lori Baglio Rodriguez, the Fourth District Court of Appeal for Florida (“4th DCA”) ruled on the very issue surrounding parents’ negligence for their child’s wrongful conduct. The Perez case was a wrongful death action arising out of fatal injuries sustained by a child following an all-terrain vehicle (“ATV”) accident. The ATV had been driven by the defendant’s son, while the deceased plaintiff was a passenger riding behind the defendant’s son. Thereafter, the parents of the deceased child hired personal injury lawyers to represent them in a lawsuit against the parent of the boy that was driving the ATV.
In the Complaint, among other allegations, the plaintiff lawyers asserted a claim of negligent supervision against the parent of the boy for failing to properly supervise her child to prevent such an incident from occurring. During litigation, the attorneys for the defendant parent had filed a Motion for Summary Judgment seeking dismissal of the case. The grounds relied upon for the motion had been that, under Florida law, the parent was under no duty to supervise the children. The trial court granted the motion, which led to the appeal being filed before the 4th DCA.
Pursuant to Orlando Sports Stadium, Inc. v. Gerzel, “adults have a duty, as ordinary prudent persons, to watch over and supervise children too young to exercise judgment to care for themselves and protect them from foreseeable hazards and harm.” The 4th DCA noted that in the Perez case, the 16-year old boys clearly do not fall into the category of those children that are too young to exercise judgment to care for themselves. Therefore, the Court noted that four broadly defined exceptions exist when a parent may incur liability for the actions of their child:
“(1) Where the parent entrusts the child with an instrumentality which, because of the child’s lack of age, judgment, or experience, may become a source of danger to others; (2) where the child committing the tort is acting as the servant or agent of its parents; (3) where the parent consents, directs, or sanctions the wrongdoing; and (4) where the parent fails to exercise control over the minor child although the parent knows or with due care should know that injury to another is possible.”
In the Perez case, the 4th DCA noted that none of the above referenced exceptions to the parent/child liability rule apply. Thus, it could not be conclusively established by the plaintiff that the parent of the defendant child had a duty to control her child with respect to the ATV accident.
Clearly, there is a fine line between a “duty” as a parent and a “duty” as a parent under the laws of negligence. A duty as a parent in general is very broad in scope, as it should be. However, under the law of the state of Florida from a personal injury perspective, attorneys must be cognizant of the exceptions to hold a parent liable for the actions of their child.
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