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Does the Doctrine of Parent-Child Immunity Survive the Death of a Child?

March 29, 2019 By Michael W. McGraw

The Court of Appeals has agreed to hear the matter of Heidenberg v. Grier, No. 78, September Term 2018, a case tried in Howard County in which the mother of a minor child, Claudia Grier, sued the child’s father, Timothy Heidenberg, for the accidental death of their minor child, Michaelangelo Heidenberg.  The parties’ son drowned in the father’s backyard pool while in the care of his father pursuant a previously established visitation schedule.  Ms. Grier had full custody of Michaelangelo at the time of his death.  The suit originated in the Circuit Court of Howard County, where Judge Timothy J. McCrone permitted the estate of Michaelangelo, of which his mother is the executor, to proceed upon a claim against Mr. Heidenberg for negligence in not carefully supervising the child, which led to his “wrongful death.”

The Court of Special Appeals upheld Judge McCrone’s pretrial ruling, which caused Mr. Heidenberg to seek review from Maryland’s highest Court.  Historically, Maryland Courts have only allowed suits by children against their parents in cases involving allegations of malicious intent, but not in cases involving negligence.  This case will be one fraught with never-before-considered issues, such as parental standard of care and the status of a child in the non-custodial parent’s home.  The Maryland General Assembly previously passed a law enabling children to sue their parents for injuries sustained in motor vehicle collisions.  It will be instructive to see whether or not the Court of Appeals holds that the facts in this case warrant an additional exception to the Doctrine of Parent-Child Immunity.