On August 4, 2015, the New Hampshire Supreme Court issued an opinion in the case of Kukesh v. Mutrie. Scott Kukesh was one of four police officers injured when he attempted to serve a search warrant at the defendant’s home in Greenland, New Hampshire. The defendant’s 29-year old son killed the Greenland Police Chief, and injured four other police officers before turning the gun on himself. The four injured officers attempted to sue the defendant arguing that she, as owner of the property, engaged in wanton and reckless conduct by providing financial support and assistance to her son.
The police could only bring a claim of reckless and wanton conduct because under the “Firefighter’s Rule”, RSA 507:8-h, a police officer cannot sue for negligence if the officer’s injuries are caused by the same conduct that required the officer’s official presence. In other words, because the officers’ injuries were sustained in the course of serving the search warrant, they could not bring a claim for negligence because their presence was required to execute the warrant.
Unfortunately for the plaintiffs, they were unable to allege specific facts which showed the mother’s actions were in any way linked to the incident. The plaintiffs could only speculate that the shooter’s mother provided the guns that were used to fire upon the officers, or money to pay the shooter’s prior criminal fines and attorney’s fees. Absent showing a direct link between the mother’s actions and the officers’ injuries, the Supreme Court concluded that the officers could not state a viable claim.
Further underpinning the Supreme Court’s decision was its reluctance to impose liability upon parents for the acts of an adult child. By imposing such liability, the Supreme Court stated that a parent would be put in an impossible position of choosing whether to provide financial assistance and housing to an adult child, or abandoning the child and thus shielding themselves from liability. Where the child is a minor, however, the parents do have an obligation to control the child’s conduct, and if they fail to take reasonable steps to do so, could expose themselves to liability.
This decision emphasizes that to state a viable claim the plaintiff must do more than merely speculate as to how the defendant’s actions caused the plaintiff’s injures. The plaintiff must allege specific facts which show a causal link between the defendant’s conduct and the alleged injuries if the claim is to survive a motion to dismiss.
Andrew J. Piela is a Director at Hamblett & Kerrigan, P.A. Mr. Piela concentrates his practice in civil litigation, family law, probate and land use litigation. You can reach Attorney Piela by e-mail at [email protected].