In Florida, third party criminal actions are not usually the responsibility of others in the criminal’s life, with a few notable exceptions. One such exception—that of a parent’s responsibility for the actions of a mentally disabled adult child—was recently debated by the state’s Fourth District courts, personal injury attorneys report.
In this case, an adult male with a history of violence and aggression murdered several people at a Thanksgiving dinner party. Previously, the man had exhibited serious violent tendencies, towards himself and others, particularly his sisters and his uncle, the host of the Thanksgiving dinner. His parents called the police several times for protection while their son lived with them, and had him involuntarily committed three times to deal with his mental trauma. The son also shot himself in the chest once, which prompted lengthy medical examinations, ongoing therapy, and daily medications.
Despite this history, the man’s parents allowed him to own firearms under their roof, and when he moved into his own condominium, they employed a housekeeper to watch his comings and goings, and alert them should he stop taking his medication. When she did, however, before the dinner party, they did nothing. Additionally, the parents secretly invited their son—who had been banned from the gathering—to dinner, and informed him that his sisters and his uncle would be in attendance.
At the dinner, the man shot and killed his two sisters, his aunt, and a six-year-old niece, and severely injured his brother-in-law. He was charged with murder and manslaughter, and sentenced to life in prison. After his sentencing, his parents faced negligence suits brought by the estates of the victims and their family members, who claimed that the parents did nothing to eliminate the risk their son posed. According to the lawsuit, the parents created a dangerous situation in inviting their son in secret, and should be held responsible for his actions as his custodians.
At trial, the court dismissed these claims, finding that the plaintiffs had not proven a special custodial relationship existed between the parents and son. The trial judges also ruled that the parents did not have control over their adult child, and as such, did not create a dangerous situation by inviting him, because they had no knowledge of or control over his actions. The court also noted that there is generally no obligation for family members to protect each other from an adult relative.
According to this ruling, it is not the responsibility of a parent to monitor and correct his or her adult child’s actions, even if that child suffers from a mental or physical disorder. This case highlights the sole liability of the actor.
Determining who is responsible for the pain and suffering caused by the loss of a loved one can be difficult, and often, victims may need clarification on the finer points of state and federal laws regarding liability. If you have lost a loved one through someone else’s negligence or violence, contact David I Fuchs, a leading Fort Lauderdale personal injury lawyer, for a free consultation today.