J.S. and M.S. v. R.T.H. Case Brief

Summary of J.S. and M.S. v. R.T.H., Supreme CT of NJ 1998

Facts: Two young girls had been caring for horses belonging to D’s husband on his farm for a significant time period. It was found that he’d been sexually abusing them for approximately one year. The man was convicted of the sex crimes and imprisoned for 18 months. The girls, along with their parents, brought an action against the abuser’s wife contending that she was negligent in preventing the sex acts through failure to act as she should have known of her husband’s propensities.

D argues: She owed no duty to Ps. The injuries incurred by the P’s were inflicted by a third party over whom she exercised no control. She argued that her husband was the sole source of culpability.

P argues: The wife should have been aware of husband’s propensities. The further argue she contributed to proximate cause.

Issue: If the wife in this case suspects her husband of sexual abuse, does she have a duty to act upon this suspicion to avoid negligence liability? Does her failure to act constitute proximate cause? Possibly…In the present case the facts should be examined in discovery.

Procedure: TC entered a summary judgment on behalf of D. The appellate division reversed and remanded for discovery. In a unanimous opinion, Supreme CT of NJ affirmed the appellate court.

Law: The ability to foresee a potential injury to a P is the determining factor in determining whether duty should be imposed.

Rationale: The scope of the duty is determined by the totality of circumstances. Whether or not failure to act falls within this scope is up to the jury to decide.

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