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Defendant Host Did Not Breach Duty to Minor Plaintiff Who Was Injured in ATV Accident at his Property Where Plaintiff’s Father Permitted Plaintiff to Participate in the Activity and Knew or Should Have Known of Its Risks
Lasley v. Hylton
In Lasley v. Hylton, No. 132408 (Supreme Court of Virginia, October 31, 2014), the Court examined the legal duty owed by a host to a child social guest when the child’s parent is present and supervising the child, which was an issue of first impression for this Court. In the underlying case, the minor Plaintiff, age eight (8), was injured while operating an all-terrain vehicle (“ATV”) at Defendant’s property during a cookout. The ATV had a warning that it should not be operated by anyone under twelve (12) years of age. Nonetheless, the minor Plaintiff’s father allowed the minor Plaintiff to operate the ATV. The minor Plaintiff almost immediately lost control of the ATV, tipped it, and was thrown to the ground, sustaining multiple injuries, including a fractured shoulder.
The minor Plaintiff sued the Defendant through her mother, contending that Defendant was negligent and grossly negligent by allowing and assisting the minor Plaintiff to operate the ATV, failing to advise of the warnings displayed on the ATV, and failing to heed the warnings.
At trial, Defendant testified that he relied on the child’s parent, to decide whether she could safely drive the ATV. The Defendant was never asked, and never agreed, to supervise the minor Plaintiff. In fact, the minor Plaintiff’s father was present and assisted the minor Plaintiff while she rode. Defendant admitted that he knew the approximate age of the minor Plaintiff; that he did not ask whether she had driven an ATV before; and that he never discussed the warnings on the ATV with the minor Plaintiff or her father.
At the conclusion of Plaintiff’s case, Defendant moved to strike the evidence. The trial court granted the Defendant’s motion and entered judgment in his favor. The trial court reasoned that in the absence of evidence of a special relationship or evidence that Defendant assumed a duty to supervise the minor Plaintiff, he had no duty to the minor Plaintiff that could support a finding of negligence.
The Virginia Supreme Court affirmed on appeal. The Court noted that the risks of riding on the ATV were open and obvious to the minor Plaintiff’s father, and he still permitted the minor Plaintiff to ride the ATV. While a social host has a duty to exercise reasonable care for a child’s safety, Defendant satisfied this duty when he ensured that the minor Plaintiff was being supervised by her father and had the father’s permission to ride the ATV. If a child’s parent is present and supervising, and knows or should know of open and obvious risks associated with an activity, a host does not breach the duty of reasonable care when he or she allows the child to participate in an activity with the parent’s permission. Therefore, the appellate court affirmed the judgment of the trial court and concluded that the trial court had properly granted judgment in favor of the Defendant.
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