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Renko v. McLean

    Brief Fact Summary. The Plaintiff, Natasha Renko (Plaintiff), was seriously injured while a minor, when the Defendant, her mother Teresa McLean (Defendant) drove their car into the back of another vehicle. Plaintiff sued Defendant requesting that the court recognize an exception to the parent-child immunity doctrine.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The parent-child immunity doctrine disallows suits between children and parents for torts occurring during the child’s minority.

    Facts. The Plaintiff suffered serious injuries when her biological mother, the Defendant drove the car both women were in into the back of another car. Plaintiff was seventeen at the time. Plaintiff filed suit for negligent operation of a motor vehicle after her eighteenth birthday. Her mother filed a motion to dismiss based on parent-child immunity and the trial court entered judgment in favor of Defendant.

    Issue. Should the court recognize an exception to the parent-child immunity doctrine, allowing emancipated children to file actions against their parents for injuries occurring in minority between fifteen and eighteen years of age?

    Held. No. Judgment affirmed.
    * The parent-child immunity doctrine serves to preserve the internal harmony and integrity of the family unit, to prevent fraud and collusion among family members and to prevent the threat that intra-familial litigation will deplete family resources. Plaintiff launches a three-pronged attack on the doctrine claiming that (1) adult children should be allowed to maintain actions against their parents for injuries occurring in their minority; (2) no contemporary justification exists to apply the doctrine to these facts based on the availability of compulsory motor vehicle liability insurance and (3) application of the doctrine violates Articles 19 and 24 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution (Constitution).
    * In support of her first argument, Plaintiff points out that this Court has permitted suits between parents and minor children in limited circumstances, including suits by a minor child against a father’s business partner and suits where the parent is guilty of acts which show complete abandonment of the parental relation. Plaintiff further contends that since this Court has already permitted children to maintain actions against their parents for acts occurring after the child reaches majority, the logical step is to permit actions for acts that occur during minority. This Court does not agree, believing that to do so would result in de facto abrogation of the valuable parent-child immunity doctrine.
    * Plaintiff also contends that the presence of mandatory automobile insurance causes there to be no rational objection to recovery by an emancipated child in these circumstances. A majority trend agrees with Plaintiff, finding that in these cases the action is not truly adversarial because both parties seek recovery from the insurance carrier. However, this Court notes that these suits create court situations that are not truly adversarial because the insured has every incentive to lose. Additionally, because of family medical insurance that would necessarily compensate the injured child, families may be saddled with judgments they cannot afford to pay.
    * This Court finds no merit in Plaintiff’s contention that the parent-child immunity doctrine as applied to motor vehicle torts violates Articles 19 and 24 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights, along with the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution.

    Discussion. Although the parent-child immunity doctrine has not been abolished to the same extent as the interspousal immunity doctrine, many courts allow for exceptions when the policies supporting it are inapplicable.


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