Law School Case Brief
Brewer v. Murray - 2012 OK CIV APP 109, 292 P.3d 41
Any claim of negligence depends on the existence of a duty and the breach of that duty. Whether a duty exists is a question of law. The general statement of one's duty is set out in Okla. Stat. tit. 76, § 1 (2011): Every person is bound, without contract, to abstain from injuring the person or property of another, or infringing upon any of his rights. Further, Oklahoma has: long recognized that without regard to the relationship of the parties, a person owes a duty of care to another person whenever the circumstances place the one person in a position towards the other person such that an ordinary prudent person would recognize that if he or she did not act with ordinary care and skill in regard to the circumstances, he or she may cause danger of injury to the other person. Whenever a person is placed in such a position with regard to another that it is obvious that if he did not use due care in his own conduct he will cause injury to the other, the duty at once arises to exercise care commensurate with the situation in order to avoid such injury.
Plaintiff Ashley Brewer was 13 years old, when she was invited to spend the night in defendant Vicky Jackson's home, with her friend, Jackson's daughter, who was 14. Plaintiff's mother contacted Jackson to confirm the invitation and to provide certain rules that her daughter was to follow. From this conversation, Brewer's mother understood that Jackson agreed to those rules and would be at home to supervise the girls. After Brewer's father dropped her off at the Jackson home, Jackson went to the lake and decided to remain there overnight, leaving the two girls alone and unsupervised. The girls then drank alcohol that they found in Jackson's home and made plans to invite some older male acquaintances of Jackson's daughter to come over. The young men, who were in their late teens and early twenties, brought more alcohol to the home. The girls became inebriated and had sexual intercourse with two of the men. Jerry Murray, the man with whom Brewer had intercourse, was 19 at the time and was subsequently convicted of statutory rape.
Within one year of turning 18, Brewer sued both Murray and Jackson, alleging that the latter was “grossly negligent” in leaving her and defendant's own daughter “completely unsupervised.” She further alleged that Jackson's conduct put her at risk and was a direct cause of her sexual assault and resulting damages, which could have been prevented by Jackson’s timely intervention. Jackson sought summary judgment arguing that she did not have a duty to protect Brewer from criminal conduct and that Brewer’s injuries were caused by her own intentional conduct. The district court found in favor of Jackson. Brewer appealed.
Did the district court err in granting summary judgment in favor of Jackson?
The Court held that the district court erred in granting Jackson’s motion for summary judgment. Where Jackson’s allegedly negligent conduct was a breach of that duty when she left her daughter and Brewer alone overnight, without adult supervision, was an issue of fact that remained unresolved. The determination of whether or not Jackson’s conduct was the proximate cause of Brewer’s injury was an issue for determination by a jury.
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