From the desk of Kyle Riley: When a parent’s actions result in personal injury to their child, what considerations dictate or bar the application of the parental immunity doctrine? While the courts have recognized an exception to the parental immunity doctrine when a child is injured through the negligent operation of an automobile, does the analysis change with negligent operation of a motorboat?
Claims Pointer: In determining whether the parental immunity doctrine applies, Washington courts consider whether the injurious act involved parental control, discipline, or discretion. Washington case law holds that parental immunity does not apply to the negligent operation of an automobile. Similarly, the parental immunity doctrine will not protect a parent who injures their child through the negligent operation of a motorboat.
Woods v. H.O. Sports Co. Inc. and Woods, — P.3d —-, 2014 WL 4087432 (Wash.App. Div. 2)
Torre Woods (Torre) was seriously injured after he was ejected from an inflatable tube being pulled behind a motorboat. At the time of the accident, Torre’s father, Michael Woods (Michael), was driving the boat. Torre brought suit against Michael for negligence. At trial, Michael filed a motion for summary judgment on the grounds that the parental immunity doctrine applied. Michael’s motion was granted and Torres’ claims against Michael were dismissed. The Division II Washington Court of Appeals then granted discretionary review on the applicability of the parental immunity doctrine.
Washington courts have continuously affirmed the viability of the parental immunity doctrine. The doctrine’s applicability, however, has been significantly limited from its original status as a nearly complete bar to parental liability for a child’s personal injuries. Three exceptions to the parental immunity doctrine have been recognized: negligent operation of an automobile, personal injury to a child while engaging in a business activity, and intentionally wrongful conduct or willful or wanton misconduct. Instead of adopting a bright line rule, application of the parental immunity doctrine will be determined on a case-by-case basis. When the activity that injures the child does not include parental control, discretion, or discipline, immunity does not apply. At the same time, absent wanton misconduct, the parents should not have to defend their child-rearing practices.
In the instant case, Torre claimed that his father, Michael, operated the motorboat in a negligent manner. There was not an allegation that Michael was negligent in allowing Torre to ride in the inflatable tube. Michael’s actions in driving the boat and pulling the inflatable tube were not acts of parental control, discipline, or discretion. His actions included driving the motorboat and towing the inflatable tube at a speed beyond the manufacturer’s recommendation, which ejected Torre and resulted in his injuries. “At the time of the accident, Michael’s relationship with Torre was not primarily that of a parent and child, but of a boat driver and tube rider.” This situation is analogous to the situation where a parent injures their child through the negligent operation of an automobile. As such, the doctrine of parental immunity did not apply and the trial court’s grant of summary judgment was in error.
Case updates are intended to inform our clients and others about legal matters of current interest. They are not intended as legal advice. Readers should not act upon the information contained in this article without seeking professional counsel.