J.S. and M.S. v. R.T.H. case brief
Facts: John sexually abused two teenage girls that came to his house to care for horses. HE abused them for over a year and was sentenced to eighteen months in prison for endangering welfare of minors. Mary, his wife, was being sued in state civil court because she knew or she should have known that john had this propensity to abuse teenage girls and as a result of her negligence in warning the girls or parents, she was also liable. Mary said she owes no duty to warn of her husbands actions since she has no control, and even if she does, she wants John to indemnify her.
Decision: Lower ct for Mary, appellate reversed for more discovery, supreme affirms
Reasoning: Courts engage in complex analysis involving nature of risk of harm, foreseeability and severity (most important), opportunity and ability to exercise care to prevent harm, comparative interest of parties, and social policy. Foreseeability determines if there is a duty. Court said that foreseeability here should be imposed under particular knowledge or a special reason to know that a particular plaintiff suffers harm. Usually a wife has actual knowledge or special reason to know that her husband is abusing or likely to abuse a victim. Mary’s actions can be found to be a proximate cause because if she does do her duty then harm will not result; she could have stopped the abuse. Basically court just used a bunch of social policy considerations to come to a conclusion. Court decided that mary likely knew of John’s tendencies and of his alone time; should have confronted him.
Holding: When a spouse has actual knowledge or special reason to know of the likelihood of their spouse engaging in sexually abusive behavior against a particular person, the spouse has a duty of care to take reasonable steps to prevent or warn of harm. Also, breach of such a duty automatically constitutes a proximate cause of that injury.