Millea v. Erikson: Duty of Care in South Carolina Wrongful Death Cases

Our South Carolina personal injury attorneys understand that establishing a duty of care in a negligence case can be a complicated matter.

ambulance677683-m.jpgIn Millea v. Erickon, the defendant, Erickson, often worked as a babysitter. She lived at home with her mother, Paula Myers, and her mother’s boyfriend, John Laughlin.

On August 20, 2011, the plaintiff’s parents asked Erickson to watch their 10-month-old daughter (“the baby”). As she had done on previous occasions, Erickson would watch the baby at the Laughlin/Myers apartment, where she lived.

That afternoon, while Erickson was sleeping, John Laughlin came home to watch TV. The baby became upset and started crying. Erickson was unable to calm the baby down and noticed that the baby’s crying was upsetting Laughlin. Laughlin suggest that Erickson put the baby in a bedroom so she could sleep. Erickson then placed the baby in her car seat and put the car seat in a bedroom. A little while later, they heard a crash. The car seat had tipped over causing the baby to get her neck caught on the seatbelt. The was strangled by the seatbelt.

The plaintiff filed a wrongful death action under a theory of negligence against Erickson and the building owner, Kelly Laughlin. Laughlin filed a summary judgment motion asserting that he had no legal duty to protect the baby from harm. The trial court granted the motion for summary judgment, and the Supreme Court of South Dakota affirmed the lower court’s ruling.

The plaintiff argued that Laughlin interfered with Erickson’s ability to care for the baby by instructing Erickson to place the baby in the car seat and put her in the bedroom. The first two questions here, as in any negligence case, are whether the defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff and if so, whether the defendant breached his or duty of care. Once we have determined that there was a duty of care and a breach of that duty, we must determine if the breach caused the injury and if the plaintiff suffered damages. The elements on a negligence claim are duty, breach, causation, and damages.

Sometimes it is clear that a duty of care exists. Sometimes the law creates what personal injury calls a statutory duty. For example, a lifeguard has a statutory duty to care for the people in the pool he or she is guarding. A babysitter has a statutory duty of care over the child he or she is watching. In this case, there is no question that Erickson had a duty to care for the baby. The question is whether Laughlin had any such duty. An example of a statutory duty of care in South Carolina can be found in Title 27 of the Code of Laws.

In Millea, the Supreme Court of South Dakota reasoned that, based upon testimony, it was Erickson’s responsibility to care for the baby and not Laughlin. Erickson testified that while she respected Laughlin, it was her decision to put the baby in the room in the car seat. Laughlin did not agree to babysit for the Iron Cloud’s and thus owed no duty of care to the baby.

Contact our South Carolina personal injury lawyers at Lee Law Offices today by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Recourses:

Millea v. Erikson, June 18, 2014, Supreme Court of South Dakota

More Blog Entries:

Protecting Carolina Children from Deadly Everyday Risks
, January 12, 2014, South Carolina Injury Lawyers Blog

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