Monday, May 8, 2006
Homeowner’s Liability for Assault on Teenage House Guest Limited
C.A. Says Mother Who Allowed Teenagers to Sleepover Had No Duty to Protect Girl Who Left Without Permission
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
A parent whose home was the site of a sleepover for teenage girls owed no duty to protect one of the guests from a sexual assault that occurred after she left the house without the host parent’s knowledge, the First District Court of Appeal ruled Friday.
“The issue is not whether plaintiff was the victim of a terrible wrong nor whether she suffered devastating injury as a result of that wrong,” San Francisco Superior Court Judge Peter J. Busch, sitting on assignment, wrote for Div. Two, “but instead who is liable under our tort law for her injuries.”
The defendant homeowner, identified only as Kelley R., was not liable because her duty was limited to protecting the girls from reasonably foreseeable risks.
She fulfilled that duty by obtaining their agreement that they would not have anyone but the few girls who were invited by the mother come over, would not drink alcohol, and would not leave the house; leaving a phone number where she could be reached; and telephoning during the evening to find out whether there were any problems, Busch said.
The appellate panel affirmed a summary judgment granted by Sonoma Superior Court Judge Robert S. Boyd, rejecting a suit by the plaintiff, identified only as Margaret W.
The plaintiff was 15 years old at the time of the 1998 incident. The evidence presented on the summary judgment motion showed that the defendant had told her daughter, Brianna, that she was going to be away during the evening and had instructed Brianna to communicate this to the other girls and their parents.
It was undisputed that during the course of the evening, the girls drank alcohol, which was brought over by some boys. The defendant’s liquor cabinet was locked, a step Kelley R. had taken following an episode of underage drinking involving people who Brianna invited over without her permission.
Kelley R. returned home after receiving a phone call from one of the other girls saying Brianna had been drinking and was feeling sick. It was not until she got home, she testified, that she learned that Margaret had left.
At that point, she testified, she was concerned with her daughter, was upset that Margaret and another girl had left the house contrary to her instructions, and did not want the girls to return to her house.
The plaintiff admitted that she could have called her mother, father, or brother, and that one of them would have come to get her, but that she did not do so because she did not want them to know she was drunk. Instead, the girls stayed at one of the boy’s houses, and it was during the night that the plaintiff was assaulted.
Busch, writing for the Court of Appeal, acknowledged that a host parent assumes a special relationship with the invited minors. But that relationship does not impose a duty to protect against risks that are not reasonably foreseeable, the justice said, meaning those outside the scope of the defendant’s knowledge.
The defendant, Busch wrote, “knowing only that appellant and a friend had gone to a party with a bunch of other teenagers and that appellant may have had too much to drink, was not required to predict or to act on the assumption that appellant could not get home, as teenagers routinely do from such parties, let alone that she would be criminally assaulted, given the lack of any evidence that such assaults were a risk at teenage parties among appellant’s schoolmates or in that area.”
The case is Margaret W. v. Kelley R., A110054.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company