Parental Immunity gets a boost

A New Jersey appeals court has upheld a no-cause verdict in a negligence suit against a woman whose child injured another child during backyard play while under her supervision. The Appellate Division, in Kane v. Hatch, said the trial judge correctly invoked the parental immunity doctrine, which gives parents a high degree of autonomy in making subjective decisions to carry out their duties and which applies to third-party suits. The defendant “neither placed the children at risk nor exposed them to a commonly inherent danger so as to fall outside the traditional realm of child rearing and therefore outside the protective mantle of the parental immunity doctrine,” the judges wrote. The defendant’s son was playing tee ball with a wooden bat with two girls, including the plaintiff’s daughter. The defendant was supervising from a porch seven feet away. Though the defendant warned the girls to stay away, the boy struck one of the girls with the bat above the eye, causing a scar. Her mother sued the defendant, alleging negligent supervision. The Appellate Division held that the trial court properly instructed the jury to weigh the defendant’s conduct against the willful and wanton standard of liability. Parental immunity “protects parents from having to defend against judgment that may be construed as poor or negligent, so long as it is an honest error of judgment that is not wanton or willful.” While parental immunity is typically invoked by a parent in a matter involving the injury of their own child, the court applied it here in the third-party context, providing what could be a useful defense for liability insurers, depending upon the circumstances.

Greg Lois is the managing partner of LOIS LLC and dedicates his practice to defending employers and carriers in New York and New Jersey workers' compensation claims. Greg is the author of a popular series of "Handbooks" on workers' compensation, and is the co-author of the 2016 & 2017 Lexis-Nexis New Jersey Workers' Compensation Practice Guide. Greg can be reached at 201-880-7213 or glois@loisllc.com