Appeal by plaintiff from Bailey, Judge. Summary judgment entered 18 November 1980 in Superior Court, Orange County. Heard in the Court of Appeals 18 November 1981.
Wells, Judge. Judge Arnold concurs. Judge Martin (Harry C.) concurs in the result.
The essential allegations as to the negligence of John and Carol Crumpton are as follows:
III. [D]efendant, John C. Crumpton, Jr. was the unemancipated minor child of defendants John C. Crumpton and Carol Crumpton, and John C. Crumpton and Carol Crumpton had the ability to exercise reasonable care in the supervision and control of their minor child John C. Crumpton, Jr.
IV. [F]or some time prior to June 28, 1978 by reason of acts and statements of defendant John C. Crumpton, Jr. involving
illegal drug usage and deadly weapons, of which defendants John C. Crumpton and Carol Crumpton were aware, defendants John C. Crumpton and Carol Crumpton knew or had reason to know that defendant John C. Crumpton, Jr. was possessed of a dangerous disposition, mental state and personality so as to make it foreseeable that he would intentionally injure others unless reasonable care in his control and supervision were exercised by John C. Crumpton and Carol Crumpton.
V. By reason of the matters and things hereinabove alleged, defendants John C. Crumpton and Carol Crumpton, on June 28, 1978, had a legal duty to exercise reasonable care to control and supervise their minor child, defendant John C. Crumpton, Jr. so as to prevent him from intentionally injuring others.
VI. [I]n breach of such duty as hereinabove alleged, on the night of June 27 and in the early morning of June 28, 1978 defendants John C. Crumpton and Carol Crumpton negligently failed to exercise reasonable care in the control and supervision of their minor son defendant John C. Crumpton, Jr. in that they failed to prevent his having access to and using illegal drugs and deadly weapons, and failed to prevent him from going abroad alone and unsupervised in the nighttime after having used such alleged drugs and after having gained possession of such a deadly weapon.
The materials before the trial court tell the story of a modern American family tragedy. John Crumpton, Jr., one of five children born to the marriage of John and Carol Crumpton, was born with a club foot and in early childhood experienced other health problems: hypoglycemia, diabetes, and ulcerative colitis. His family life was apparently comfortable and secure, and it appears that during his childhood and early adolescence, John Jr.'s relationship with his parents and grandparents involved regular hunting, fishing and golfing outings and frequent trips to the beach. Despite his supportive environment, John, Jr. began using marijuana at an early age, and was a regular user of various illegal drugs by the time he was thirteen years old. Although John, Jr.'s parents were aware of his use of drugs and attempted by
various means to discourage such habits, he persisted in his drug habit, earning money to purchase drugs from various part-time jobs. John, Jr. frequently skipped school, got into arguments with his parents, once struck his mother, was hospitalized once for a drug overdose, was arrested once for carrying a concealed weapon (a knife), and impregnated a young girl. This tragic history of drug addiction and rebellious behavior culminated in his rape of the plaintiff and his conviction of and imprisonment for that crime.
Prior to the rape, John, Jr. possessed a number of hunting knives and guns given to him by his parents. His parents did not know that he possessed the thirteen-inch stiletto that he used in the rape. His parents kept alcoholic beverages at home, to which John, Jr. had access. The pint of bourbon whiskey he drank on the night of the rape was obtained at a friend's house. In May, 1978, Carol Crumpton separated from her husband and moved to a separate address. By agreement, Mrs. Crumpton took the couple's three youngest children to live with her, while her husband continued to have custody of John, Jr. and his twin sister. Carol Crumpton was on vacation at the beach on 28 June 1978. Prior to 28 June 1978, John Crumpton finalized plans for a vacation in Hawaii. Before leaving home, he made arrangements for John, Jr. to visit with his grandparents, and delivered John, Jr. to their home near Roxboro. After his father left him in Roxboro, John, Jr. returned to Chapel Hill, and on the night of 28 June 1978, he drank a large amount of whiskey, took drugs, got "high" and carried out his rape of plaintiff.
The history of John, Jr.'s problems reflects the response of concerned parents. When John, Jr. was nine, problems associated with his physical infirmities led his parents to consult a child psychologist. As John, Jr.'s drug and school problems emerged in junior high school, his parents sought the help of school guidance counselors and various mental health professionals. They frequently remonstrated with John, Jr. and attempted to discipline him. In an effort to remove him from his harmful home-town environment, they sent him away to a private high school for the tenth grade, where he performed well. He was sent back for the eleventh grade, but he refused to stay and returned home early in that school year. In addition to other mental health professionals who counseled John, Jr. and his parents, he was treated
by John A. Gorman, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, and Landrum S. Tucker, Jr., M.D., a psychiatrist. Dr. Gorman saw John, Jr. on six occasions during the period May through October, 1975. Dr. Tucker saw John, Jr. on five occasions in January and February, 1978, during which time he also reviewed John, Jr.'s psychological testing. Both Dr. Gorman and Dr. Tucker indicated that although John, Jr. required continued treatment, he was not disposed toward violent or dangerous behavior and that he was not a person who should or could be involuntarily committed. John, Jr. broke off his counseling with both Dr. Gorman and Dr. Tucker. His parents either could not or did not require him to continue treatment.
To answer the principal issue in this appeal, we must review the law of North Carolina as it relates to the liability of parents for the torts of their unemancipated children. We first note that there is no statute bearing upon the issue of liability in this case, and it is therefore to the common law which we must look for answers.
We begin our analysis with Brittingham v. Stadiem, 151 N.C. 299, 66 S.E. 128 (1909). Plaintiff's injury resulted from a pistol wound inflicted by defendants' son, who was employed in defendants' store. In allowing recovery for plaintiff on the basis of the agency of defendants' son, ...