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Horton v. Reaves - 186 Colo. 149, 526 P.2d 304 (1974)

Rule:

A parent is not liable for the torts of a child merely because of the parent-child relationship. A parent is liable for the tortious acts of the child only if the parent's negligence in supervising the child is the proximate cause of the injury. In cases involving a battery committed by a child, the parent's liability is predicated upon three factors: (1) that the child had a propensity to commit the particular abuse which caused the injury; (2) that the parent knew of the child's propensity; and (3) that the parent failed to restrain the child from committing the particular type of wrongful conduct causing injury.

Facts:

Mrs. Reaves placed her five-week-old daughter upon a bed, she then left the child unattended to visit her neighbor, Mrs. Horton. As Mrs. Reaves was returning to her home, Johnny and Keith Horton, four and three year-old children of Mrs. Horton, were running across the yard to their home. Johnny said something to his mother, which indicated that the Reaves baby might need attention. Mrs. Reaves found the infant on the bedroom floor with a crushed skull. Through her legal guardian, the infant plaintiff brought this personal injury action against Johnny and Keith Horton, Mrs. Horton, and her mother, Mrs. Reaves. Prior to trial, the district court dismissed the simple negligence claim against Mrs. Reaves on grounds of parental immunity. The court dismissed the claim against Mrs. Horton and the remaining claim against Mrs. Reaves. The trial proceeded to conclusion against the two remaining defendants, Johnny and Keith Horton. Judgment was entered upon a jury verdict in favor of these defendants. The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court in all respects except that it reversed and remanded the claim against Johnny and Keith Horton for a new trial on the basis of an improper jury instruction.

Issue:

(a) Did the Court of Appeals err when it affirmed the trial court’s ruling that there was insufficient evidence to submit the issue of Mrs. Horton’s negligence to the jury?

(b) Did trial court fail to properly instruct the jury concerning the intent requirement of an infant charged with an intentional tort?

(c) Was Mrs. Reaves liable for negligence?

Answer:

(a) No. (b) No (c) No.

Conclusion:

(a) In cases involving a battery committed by a child, the parent's liability is predicated upon three factors: (1) that the child had a propensity to commit the particular abuse which caused the injury; (2) that the parent knew of the child's propensity; and (3) that the parent failed to restrain the child from committing the particular type of wrongful conduct causing injury. In this case there was no competent evidence establishing Mrs. Horton's liability;

(b) The jury was instructed that in order to find Keith and Johnny Horton liable, it had to find: (1) that the defendants were "capable of intending the harmful contact of another;" and (2) that the defendants "acted with the intent of making a harmful contact with the plaintiff's person." The instructions given by the trial court are consistent with pattern jury instructions;

(c) under the doctrine of parental immunity, liability of a parent can be predicated only upon willful and wanton misconduct. Therefore, the simple negligence claim against Mrs. Reaves was properly dismissed.  The court also agreed with the trial court and the Court of Appeals that there was insufficient evidence of willful and wanton misconduct on the part of Mrs. Reaves to submit the question to the jury.

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