North Carolina Supreme Court Upholds Dismissal of Claims Against Father in Assault Case, Based on Parent-Child Immunity Doctrine

When an assault or another type of intentional bodily harm happens, there is often a criminal investigation and prosecution. The victim of the incident also usually has a civil claim against the perpetrator to recover compensation for any medical bills and other damages associated with the event. At Maurer Law, our seasoned team of North Carolina personal injury lawyers is prepared to help you protect your legal right to compensation during this difficult and stressful time.

In a recent opinion from the North Carolina Supreme Court, the justices considered a civil claim stemming from a criminal matter. The plaintiff and defendant were long-term domestic partners who separated. They had three shared children.

In September 2010, the woman filed a claim against her former partner in addition to claims on behalf of their three children in her capacity as guardian ad litem. The claims included allegations of negligence, premises liability, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and gross negligence. The complaint also sought punitive damages. According to her complaint, the woman alleged that the defendant attempted to break into her home and was eventually successful. She alleged that the defendant attacked her by hitting her with a ladder from the attic, thereby causing serious injuries to her head and neck that resulted in permanent injuries. Hearing the noise, the children awoke, came to the scene of the attack, and saw their mother being hit by the ladder.

In his answer, the defendant asserted counterclaims and then filed a motion for summary judgment. He argued that there were no issues of material fact regarding the minors’ claims because the plaintiff cannot assert claims on their behalf under the parent-child immunity doctrine. This doctrine precludes claims between unemancipated minors and their parents for claims arising in ordinary negligence. The lower court agreed with the defendant and dismissed all claims on the children’s behalves. The Court of Appeals reversed this finding, stating that the parent-child immunity doctrine does not bar intentional infliction of emotional distress claims or gross negligence claims. The defendant appealed.

On review by the Supreme Court, the justices concluded that the defendant’s conduct did not constitute willful and malicious conduct against the minors because they were bystanders rather than direct victims of his alleged conduct. More specifically, the court observed that the doctrine has never applied to lawsuits by unemancipated minors to recover damages resulting from a parent’s willful and malicious acts. According to the court, the record lacked evidence that the defendant intended to cause harm to the children. As a result, the Supreme Court concluded that the trial court’s dismissal of the minors’ claims was appropriate.

If you were injured in an assault or other incident involving someone’s gross negligence, you may be entitled to compensation. At Maurer Law, our personal injury lawyers understand how stressful and confusing this situation is for your family and you. We offer a free consultation to help you learn more about the legal system and how we can assist you. Call us now at 1-888-258-1087 or contact us online to get started.

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