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Father Responsible for Overdose Death of Son’s Girlfriend?

The Court of Appeal for the Fourth District recently took on a novel issue in a wrongful death case.  The question posed on appeal was whether a father who provides financial support for his adult son may be held liable for the death of his son’s girlfriend by overdose on methamphetamine allegedly purchased or supplied by the adult son.

The circumstances leading up to the filling of the action were as follows:

Father knew his son, C.B., had been addicted to drugs for a number of years, and “had paid on numerous prior occasions” for C.B. to undergo “detox and/or drug rehabilitation and treatment programs to treat his addiction.” C.B. was not employed and was “dependent” on Father for financial support. Father provided “regular, consistent, and frequent financial support” to C.B., which included paying for C.B.’s housing and living expenses as well as giving him money for spending and “necessities of life.”

Father knew C.B. was in a lengthy relationship with A.C. “which involved a significant amount of drug use between them.” Father knew or should have known C.B. used money Father provided to purchase drugs and share them with A.C.

A.C. checked herself out and left a detoxification facility with C.B. the weekend before her death. On several occasions, A.C.’s parents spoke to Father about the drug-related dependency between C.B. and A.C. They told Father that if he did not stop providing C.B. with the financial resources to buy drugs, someone was going to end up dead. Father did not cut off C.B. financially and continued to support him.

Father drove A.C. home from C.B.’s apartment and knew or should have known C.B. supplied A.C. drugs when they were together.

The following day, C.B. picked up A.C. from her parents’ home after a confrontation with her parents. C.B. later battered, punched, kicked, or otherwise hit A.C. leaving physical marks. When C.B. was detained on charges of domestic violence against A.C., Father posted bail for C.B.

Two days before her death, C.B. and a friend drove A.C. to an emergency room due to illness. C.B. allegedly supplied A.C. drugs in the emergency room parking lot. A.C. checked herself out of the emergency room after being diagnosed with sepsis.

On the day of A.C.’s death, C.B. drove A.C. to a bank to obtain money from an account provided by Father. When C.B.’s bank card was declined, they waited in the car in the parking lot for the bank to open. They used drugs which C.B. allegedly purchased with money he received from Father. A.C. died as a result of methamphetamine intoxication.

After her death, A.C.’s parents filed a wrongful death action naming C.B.’s father as a defendant.

The father filed a demurrer and the trial court sustained the demurrer to a complaint for wrongful death based on negligence, which sought to hold a father who provided financial support for his adult son liable for the death of his son’s girlfriend from a drug overdose.

A.C.’s parents appealed the decision.

The trial court concluded no special relationship existed between Father and his adult son such that Father should be held liable for wrongful death of the girlfriend.

The Court of Appeal affirmed, concluding that public policy did not support an extension of liability because the father had no duty to control the son based on a special relationship. The facts pleaded did not show that the father had any ability to control the son’s alleged conduct in purchasing or supplying drugs or that the father could have prevented the girlfriend’s overdose by not giving his son any money. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in sustaining the demurrer without leave to amend because additional facts about the father’s knowledge of drug use by the son and the girlfriend did not show that the father had the ability to control the son and therefore did not cure the defect in the pleading.

 

California is a state in which wrongful death is created entirely by statute (Code of Civil Procedure Section 377.60).  As such, only those provided for in the statute may pursue a claim for wrongful death.  If you have lost a loved one and wish to pursue a wrongful death claim, you should contact the knowledgeable attorneys at Heiting & Irwin to help you determine what your rights are.  Call us today.

 

*case referred to is K.G. v. S.B. (Mar. 16, 2020, No. D075872) 2020 Cal. App. LEXIS 217

 

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Mr. Serrano has been admitted to practice before California State and Federal Courts. He was named to the Super Lawyers’ 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016 Southern California Rising Stars List, an honor awarded to no more than 2.5% of attorneys in Southern California each year. View Attorney Jean-Simon Serrano's Attorney Bio Here.

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