Court Rules Parents Must Keep Their Promise

"No Driving With Boys!"

The Supreme Court of Virginia has ruled that a supervising parent who expressly promises to follow another parents' rules while caring for their child has a duty to follow through to provide reasonable care and supervision. Kudos to the judges who agree that when you host and you make a promise, you must keep your promise!

Michael Kellerman of North Carolina agreed to let his 14-year-old daughter Jaimee visit her friend Becka McDonough in Richmond in December 2004. When he dropped off his daughter with Becka's mom Paula, Kellerman specifically instructed her not to let Jaimee be driven anywhere by inexperienced drivers. "No boys with cars," he emphasized, and added that this was a rule in his own home as well. McDonough agreed to Kellerman's instruction and promised to take good care of his daughter.

Later that day¸ Paula McDonough dropped off the girls at a local mall and left. The girls met up with two boys and another girlfriend, and attended a movie. After the movie ended, Becka called her mom and either asked for permission or told her mom that the girls would be driving home with one of the boys, a 17-year-old with a reputation for reckless driving. He previously had been stopped by police for speeding. According to court records, Paula McDonough "purposefully instructed or otherwise permitted the girls to go home with [the boy] in his car." She completely disregarded the promise she made to Jaimee's father.

Jaimee reluctantly got into the car after she and the other friend tried to find another way home. The boy began driving recklessly and Jaimee begged him to slow down. She even texted her friend that she "feared she was going to die." Minutes later, the car skidded out of control, hitting a tree. Jaimee died the next morning.

Supervising Adults are Responsible for the Choices the Make and the Rules they Break

At the hospital, McDonough repeatedly told a friend "that she feared that she was 'going to be sued' for directing the girls to go in [the boy's] car, which violated the Kellermann's clear instructions."  Was McDonough driving the car that killed Jaimee? No, but, sadly, her actions probably directly contributed to Jaimee's death.

This doesn't mean that that every time a child sleeps over at your house and someone gets hurt that you are going to be sued, but Kellerman expressly stated "NO BOYS WITH CARS" and McDonough promised "NO BOYS WITH CARS" and then broke her promise.

What we must learn from this tragedy is two-fold: When your child sleeps over at another family's home, don't be shy about setting rules for your own child while in their care. And when you invite a minor child over for the night and expressly promise to obey the other parent's specific rules, you are responsible if something happens to that child!

The Virginia Supreme Court ruling clears the way for Kellerman to continue with his wrongful death claim against McDonough.

Ben Glass
Ben Glass is a nationally recognized Virginia injury, medical malpractice, and long-term disability attorney