RICHMOND, Va. (CN) – A woman can be taken to court for promising to take care of her daughter’s friend, who died in a car accident, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled.
When Michael Kellerman dropped off 14-year-old Jaimee with Paula McDonough, he told McDonough that Jaimee was not to be driven in cars by underage drivers. McDonough agreed that she would take care of Jaimee as she spent the weekend with McDonough’s daughter, Becca.
After they attended a movie at the mall, a 17-year-old boy, Nathan DeFrank, asked to give the girls a ride. Becca asked McDonough, and she said yes.
Jaimee and another girl did not want to ride in the car with Nathan, who had a reputation as a reckless driver. Unable to find another ride, the girls reluctantly got into the car.
Nathan drove so fast that the girls begged him to slow down. Jaimee texted her father and a friend, fearing that she would die.
Those fears were realized when Nathan swerved off the road at 77 mph and hit a tree. Jaimee was Life-Flighted to the hospital, where she died the next morning.
The circuit court sustained the McDonoughs’ demurrer that they owed no duty of care to Jaimee, but Chief Justice Hassell overturned the decision, ruling that Kellerman brought a proper cause of action against Paula McDonough.
“We hold that when a parent relinquishes the supervision and care of a child to an adult who agrees to supervise and care for that child, the supervising adult must discharge that duty with reasonable care,” Hassell wrote.
Hassell also ruled that Nathan’s actions as the driver of the car did not supersede Paula McDonough’s potential liability.
Her husband, Paul, was properly released from the case by the trial court, Hassell ruled, because he was not present when Paula said she would take care of Jaimee.