Common Good. the bipartisan legal reform coalition. has announced the recipients of its second annual Gatekeeper Awards. The awards highlight the appropriate role of judges in determining who can sue for what.
The Awards honor judges whose decisions restore public confidence that reasonable actions will be supported by the courts. even when they result in unintended consequences.
Included among the recipients was former New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Peter G. Verniero. currently of counsel with Sills Cummis Epstein & Gross P.C.
The award was based on Justice Verniero's ruling in Buono v. Scalia in March 2004. In announcing the award. Common Good issued the following statement:
"Parents appropriately supervising their children should not have to worry about being held liable for unfortunate accidents. We're glad Justice Peter G. Verniero drew the line in this case against parents whose son accidentally injured another child at a block party. Quoting from a previous decision. Justice Verniero recognized "[T]here are certain areas of activities within the family sphere involving parental discipline. care. and control that should and must remain free from judicial intrusion." Parents are not immune from liability for "willful or wanton" conduct. but should not be forced to defend against honest errors of judgment. Allowing such claims would "risk opening the floodgates on intrusive litigation" and would consume the resources of parents and society".
The case arose when five-year-old Michael Scalia accidentally collided with 16-month-old Kathryn Buono at a block party. Michael's father was following a few feet behind and shouted to warn him about running into Kathryn. but Michael did not hear the warning. Kathryn. whose mother was standing an "arm's length" away and did not witness the accident. required stitches. Kathryn's parents sued for negligent supervision. A trial court granted summary judgment to the Scalias. and the Supreme Court upheld that decision.