Mr. Broadbent (Plaintiff), as conservator for his injured son, sued Mrs. Broadbent (Defendant) for negligence in leaving their son by a pool while she answered the phone.
Parental immunity is no longer valid. A parent’s conduct towards a child is judged by whether it is what a reasonable and prudent parent in a similar situation would do.
Defendant went to answer the phone and left her two year-old son by a swimming pool. He fell into the pool and was submerged long enough to suffer severe brain damage before he was rescued. Plaintiff, his son’s conservator, sued Defendant for negligence. The trial court dismissed the complaint under the doctrine of parental immunity and Plaintiff appealed.
Does parental immunity protect a parent from liability for tortious conduct toward a child?
(Corcoran, J.) No. Parental immunity is no longer valid. A parent’s conduct towards a child is judged by whether it is what a reasonable and prudent parent in a similar situation would do. A parent is not immune from liability for tortious conduct toward a child merely because of the parental relationship. Here, the factfinder may find that Defendant did not act the way a reasonable and prudent parent would in a similar situation. Vacated and remanded.
(Feldman, C.J.) In areas where only parents have the authority to make decisions, the parent’s actions must be substantially unreasonable in order to be subject to liability.
In the opinion, the court laid out the history of parental immunity in tort law. It did not exist under English common law, but was developed and adopted in almost all states. In each of these states, the rule came with exceptions for certain circumstances.