In Taylor v. Trimble, a case from the California Court of Appeal, plaintiff’s five-year-old son drowned in a horrific swimming pool accident. After the death of his son, he filed a complaint arguing general negligence against the defendant for failing to adequately supervise the child.
According to court records, on the date of the incident, the homeowner defendants had a social gathering that the decedent child attended with his mother. Neither the child nor the mother knew how to swim. After the child first arrived and went into the shallow end of the pool, which they named the kiddie wading area, defendant watched the child play. She watched him until the child’s grandfather arrived. He was a captain for the Los Angeles Fire Department and said he would take over the duty of watching child while he was in the pool.The grandfather allowed the child to stay in the shallow end of the pool; however, at some time after, he lost sight of the child. He then heard someone scream, asking where the child was. The grandfather, being well trained in rescue, jumped into the pool and recovered the child. He tried to perform CPR on the child, but the child did not respond and did not survive.
Once the case had been filed and discovery had been conducted, the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment in which they argued they owed no duty to of care to plaintiffs and did not create or maintain an unreasonably dangerous condition. As our Boston personal injury lawyers can explain, a duty of care is the first element of a negligence cause of action. A negligence cause of action is the most common type of action filed in a personal injury case.
The duty of care is, more specifically, a duty to act as a reasonable and prudent and person so as to prevent a foreseeable injury to foreseeable persons and property. Generally speaking, in our legal system, one person does not owe a duty of care towards any other person. However, there are various ways that you can have such a duty of care. One of these ways is by statute. There are certain statutes or laws that establish such a duty of care. For example, a daycare provider owes a duty of care towards those children in their care.
There can also be a duty of care imposed by means of a contract. For example, a lifeguard has entered into an employment contract that requires him or her to take care of the people swimming in the pool. If he does not do so, he is in breach of the duty of due care imposed by contract. Another way that a duty of care can be imposed is if you place another person in peril. If you are acting in a negligent manner, and you cause an injury to another person, and that person was in the foreseeable zone of danger, you could be said to have breached your duty of due care.
Yet another way in which a duty of due care could be imposed is when we are dealing with a premises liability action. That is what we have in this case. At common law and in most states, a property owner may be responsible for injuries to guests on his or her property, depending on the nature of the hazard that caused the injury and the reason the injured party was on the property. The law made various distinctions between whether the guest is a customer and a social guest and also whether they were what is known as an invitee or licensee, but this created a confusing and sometimes harsh result. For that reason, in the 1970s, the Supreme Judicial Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which is our state supreme court, did away with all of these distinctions and required that a homeowner or property owner must act in a reasonable and prudent manner so as to prevent a foreseeable injury to foreseeable persons and property. This is the same standard as in any other negligence case. The only difference is in the case of trespassers, who are not generally considered to be foreseeable persons who will be on property.
In this case, the plaintiff replied to the defendant’s motion for summary judgement by showing that there was a dangerous condition at the time, because defendant’s had performed serious modifications to the pool, including changing the color from light to dark and adding a Jacuzzi, and waterfall in the wading area. On the day of the incident in question, there was no rock retaining wall separating the kiddie area from the deeper part of the pool. They also argued they did not properly supervise those in the pool, including the child who died, and they did not provide life vests. Despite this opposition, the trial judge granted the motion for summary judgement and dismissed the case.
At this point, plaintiff appealed, and the court affirmed the lower court’s decision. The reason for this was because the homeowner was originally supervising the child and then relinquished that authority to a family member who volunteered to watch the child and was qualified to do so. He never relinquished that responsibility, and the child died while he was under the direct supervision of a family member. If the defendants owed a duty of care when the child first arrived, they no longer did at the time of the child’s death, and the cause of action was properly dismissed according to the court of appeals.
There was also a question on the premises liability claim that was filed in addition to the general negligence cause of action that was just discussed. The court held that the plaintiff was unable to show, in response to defendant’s motion for summary judgment, that there was any genuine dispute as to material fact. In order to understand this, we must look to Rule 56 of the Rules of Civil Procedure that establishes that a motion for summary judgment will be granted, and the case will be dismissed, if the facts, in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, do not present a set of facts that a reasonable jury could use to find in favor of the plaintiff. In order to overcome this, the non-moving party must generally show there is a genuine dispute as to a material fact. In this case, the court found that plaintiff was not able to do so and affirmed the dismissal.
If you have suffered personal injury in Massachusetts, call the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman for a free and confidential appointment — (617) 777-7777.
Taylor v. Trimble, July 27, California Court of Appeals
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Pontoon Boat Operator Charged With Criminal Negligence in Boy’s Death, Feb. 16, 2017, Boston Sport Injury Lawyer Blog