Negligent Supervision in Maine Child Injury Claim

In filing a Bangor child injury lawsuit on the grounds of negligent supervision, plaintiff attorneys must first establish that the defendant had a duty to supervise the child.
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The existence and scope of the duty of negligent supervision is a matter of law, and in order to prove it, plaintiffs have to show that there was some type of custodial relationship between the two parties. Per Dragomir v. Spring Harbor Hosp.,, Me: Supreme Judicial Court 2009, a custodial relationship in Maine exists between two parties when one party is required or voluntarily takes physical custody of another, such as to deprive the other party of his normal opportunities for protection.

This custodial relationship is not necessarily a formal agreement. It need not be in writing or even expressly stated verbally.

In fact, in the recent case of Bell v. Dawson, as reviewed by the Maine Supreme Court, a parent or guardian need not even be aware of the arrangement in order for it to be established.

However, such a relationship has time and place limitations. So for example, a summer camp may have a custodial relationship to a camper while the child is at camp during the summer, but the operation would not have a custodial relationship to the child three months after camp has ended.

Of course, that’s a fairly straightforward explanation. The Bell case was a bit more complex.

The case involved a 13-year-old boy who lived with his parents. He was struck by a vehicle while skateboarding out of the driveway of an older friend’s home. He suffered severe injuries. The question was whether the adult friend and his adult girlfriend were responsible for the teen as custodians.

The two adult friends routinely allowed younger teens to hang out at their home, smoke cigarettes and sometimes stay the night. The boy’s parents had never met this couple and did not know they even existed.

One day in May, the 13-year-old went with several of his friends to the couple’s home, where they hung out in the garage. The boys left, but later returned. By that time, the adult couple had been drinking alcohol. The adult male invited the teens inside to watch television, which they did. The boys asked to spend the night, to which both adults agreed. In fact, the 13-year-old called his mother and the adult female resident pretended to be the mother of a particular friend so that the teen could gain permission to stay overnight.

Around 10 p.m., the adults went to sleep. Around 1 a.m., the younger boys left the residence, but they returned around 3 or 4 a.m. They stayed there until about 7 a.m.

At this point, the 13-year-old returned home, spoke to his parents, got something to eat and then left again, returning to the adult couple’s home. It was at this time that the skateboarding accident occurred.

There was no indication that once the teen left the home around 7 a.m. that the adult couple realized he had returned.

What the court determined was that while a custodial relationship was established between the teen and the adult couple the evening prior, that relationship was not in tact at the time the accident occurred.

The boy’s mother had attempted to argue that even if there was no custodial relationship, the adult couple was still negligent because their negligent supervision of him the night before – while a custodial relationship did exist – left him overly fatigued and at risk of harm, which occurred the next morning.

However, the court rejected that argument on the grounds that there is no law supporting a requirement that an adult supervising a teenage sleepover must ensure that a child receives sufficient sleep or has to know exactly how much sleep the child has received.

Further, the court found little evidence to suggest the crash resulting injuries were the direct cause of the child’s fatigue or that if he had been properly supervised, the crash wouldn’t have occurred.

In the end, the court conceded that the adult couple had used “extremely poor judgment” and that their actions were “unconscionable.” However, there simply wasn’t enough evidence here to support a claim of negligent supervision.

If your child has been injured, contact us at 1-800-804-2004 or read more on our website.

Additional Resources:
Bell v. Dawson, Dec. 10, 2013, Maine Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:
Exculpatory Agreements for Children Have Varied Enforcement in Maine, Dec. 30, 2013, Bangor Child Injury Lawyer Blog

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