The Washington Supreme Court looked at an interesting case involving a tragic drowning recently. The parents of a three year old girl left her in the care of her stepfather. The stepfather claimed he started a video for the child in her room and then left her alone to go downstairs and build a fire. About an hour later, he realized she was no longer in her room. He noticed the sliding glass door to the backyard was open. He walked into the back yard and found her floating face down in the pool. Efforts to resuscitate her failed and she died in the hospital. The parents filed a lawsuit against the stepfather. The court tossed the case based upon the doctrine of parental immunity. The court ruled the doctrine shields parents for any liability for negligent supervision of their children. In years past the doctrine of parental immunity was used to shield parents from any claims brought by their children. The law protected parents from suit even in horrible situations, such as rape of a child or other cruel and inhumane treatment. The law was changed decades ago to protect only those acts that amount to negligent parental supervision. Examples have included cases where parents let their children wander the neighborhood and they become injured playing with electrical wires. Parents are not immune from suit if they are acting outside of their parental obligations, such as in automobile accidents. Even though they may be transporting the child for a family purpose, the act of driving a car obligates them for any injuries caused by their mistakes, even if the person injured is one of their children. In this new case, the courts ruled the doctrine could be used to shield a stepfather if he was truly acting as a parent at the time.
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