In Perez v. Rodriguez, the plaintiffs, acting as personal representatives of the estate of their son, Danny, brought a wrongful death action against the defendant. In their complaint, the plaintiffs alleged that their son was killed as a result of injuries he sustained due to an ATV accident. At the time of the accident, the ATV was being driven by the defendant's son, Ricky, who did not suffer any injuries. At the time the accident occurred, both boys were 16 years old, and neither of them had put on a helmet.
During discovery, evidence came out regarding the circumstances surrounding the accident. The ATV was capable of traveling up to 65 miles per hour and was not intended for multiple riders. It was a surprise gift for Ricky from his parents. Neither parent operated the ATV, and only the wife had ever ridden on the ATV while Ricky was driving. Before the accident happened, no one other than the wife had ridden with Ricky on the ATV.
The parents testified that Ricky was required to ask permission to ride the ATV and that he was not allowed to use it unless at least one parent was home. As far as they knew, their son had not disobeyed this requirement. The key to the ATV was kept in an unlocked drawer in the area that the father used for his office.
Prior to the incident, Danny's father dropped him at the Rodriguez' house. Although Ricky's mother was there, his father was gone. According to testimony from Ricky, the boys were swimming when Danny asked Ricky if they could use the ATV. Ricky told Danny that he was not allowed to use it without his parents' permission. Ricky's mother told the boys that she was leaving and that Danny needed to have his parents pick him up because they could not be home alone together. She then left. Before this day, she had never left her son home alone with a friend.
Almost an hour later, the boys decided to use the ATV. At various points during the ride, Danny would let go and not hold on to Ricky or the ATV, even though Ricky repeatedly asked him to hold on. Eventually, Danny fell off the ATV. Medical examiners determined he died from blunt force trauma to the head. Danny's parents sued Ricky's parents, asserting a number of claims, including a claim for negligent supervision. The defendants moved for summary judgment, and the trial court granted the motion. The plaintiff appealed.
On appeal, the court first discussed the standard for negligent supervision, noting that there are four exceptions for when a parent can be held liable for their child's tortious conduct:
- When the parent entrusts the child with an instrumentality that may become a source of danger, based on the child's experience and age;
- When the child is acting as the servant or agent of their parents;
- When the parent consents, directs, or sanctions the wrongdoing; or
- When the parent fails to exercise control over the minor child, even though the parent knew or should have known that an injury to another person was likely to occur.
Ultimately, the court found that none of these exceptions applied, and it upheld the lower court's entry of dismissal. Ricky's parents had no reason to believe that the boys would use the ATV, that Danny would refuse to hold onto the machine, or that someone would fall off the ATV.
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