Monday, April 27, 2015

Parental immunity for "free range parents"?

Maybe it was just a coincidence, but just as I was due to teach the issues related to parental immunity in class, I have seen a number of stories related to torts involving parents and children.  I recently posted stories on a possible duty to vaccinate (here and here), possible liability for parents who expose a child to an exorcism (here), and issues related to pre natal torts (here).

Now, here is a story about "free range parents" from Above the Law (with lots of links including one to a recent article in the Washington Post).  It discusses "examples of clashes between parents who believe their kids deserve some autonomy and child protective services workers who are charged with taking every potential threat to a child’s safety seriously."

When we talk about parental immunity, we invariably discuss the policy behind the immunity as being that parents should have the right to make decisions on how to raise their children without undue interference from the state.  Parents also have the right to make mistakes and not have to be liable in all cases.  Obviously, the question then becomes when does the interference of the state ceases to be "undue" and becomes justified.

This is precisely the policy question behind the debate on free range parenting.

In addition, another by product of the debate is the possibility of using criminal or child welfare statutes as expressions of a duty in tort law (by applying the so called "negligence per se" doctrine). 

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