Thursday, August 23, 2012, 3:28 PM

COA Discusses Legal Duty of Parents of Violent Repeat Offender Who Lived In Their Home (With Their Guns)

In an interesting case this week, the COA held that dismissal of negligence claims against the parents of a convicted criminal with a "pattern of violent behavior towards women" was proper because the harm to Plaintiff was not reasonably foreseeable and Defendants had no duty to guard against it. The case is Bridges v. Parrish. Plaintiff's sometime boyfriend, Bernie, was Defendants' son. Bernie had a checkered past that included numerous drug and weapon charges. He also "exhibited a pattern of violent behavior toward women," including a conviction for first degree kidnapping, assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill or inflict serious injury, and possession of a firearm by a felon. Defendants were aware of Bernie’s criminal history and violent conduct toward women and did not reveal it to Plaintiff. Plaintiff ended her relationship with Bernie in 2010 due to his “controlling, accusatory, and risky” behavior, but continued to see him occasionally. Plaintiff claimed Bernie's mother assured her that Bernie was not a threat. In 2011, Bernie drove Defendants' vehicle to Plaintiff's office and shot her with a handgun, seriously injuring her. The handgun was registered to Bernie's dad and was used by both Defendants. Plaintiff argued that Defendants owed her a legal duty because the harm she suffered was a foreseeable result of their actions (providing Bernie with assistance and shelter, "downplaying" his behavior, and failing to secure their guns). The majority affirmed the trial court's dismissal of Plaintiff's negligence claims, finding that Defendants owed Plaintiff no such duty. While Plaintiff alleged that she would not have been shot if Defendants had not provided assistance to Bernie, attempted to downplay his behavior, told Plaintiff he posed no threat, and failed to take steps to secure their guns, the Court found that Plaintiff did not allege that Bernie’s violent behavior was “in any way associated" with Defendants’ conduct or that Defendants were "on notice" that their conduct could cause Bernie to act violently. Plaintiff's allegations did not support any "nexus of foreseeability" between Defendants' actions and Plaintiff's injuries. The COA also found that Plaintiff did not sufficiently allege negligent entrustment of the handgun because she acknowledged in her brief that “[i]t is not yet known exactly how Bernie obtained the firearm from [d]efendants" and "[b]ecause plaintiff failed to allege that defendants expressly or impliedly consented to the use of the handgun." A majority (Judges Hunter and Beasley)further found that NC courts have not recognzed a duty to secure firearms. Judge Geer dissented with regard to Plaintiff's claim for negligent storage of a firearm, finding that other jurisdictions recognize such a claim under circumstances similar to those alleged in the complaint, and that Plaintiff's allegations were sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss that claim.

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