Group Home Providing Caretaking Services did not Owe Duty to Child Harmed by one of its Residents

Posted on: December 27th, 2019

Defendant DAC, Inc. operates a group home that provides home and community based services for disabled persons. On March 25, 2015, a resident of the home with intellectual disabilities and a history of sexual abuse and physical aggression left Defendant’s property without the staff’s knowledge or permission. While missing from the home, the resident approached a minor child, led her to a discreet location, and attempted to sexually abuse the child. The minor child was able to break free and run away. The minor child’s parents filed suit against Defendant alleging it was negligent in admitting, retaining, and supervising the resident that confronted their daughter. Defendant moved for summary judgment arguing it did not owe the minor child a legal duty to protect her from the resident. The district court agreed and granted summary judgment. Plaintiffs appealed.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals cited the general rule that a legal duty does not extend to harm caused by third parties. An exception to this rule exists when it is determined there is a “special relationship” with the third party. Specifically, one “owes a duty of reasonable care to third parties with regards to risks posed by the other that arise within the scope of the relationship.” Ultimately, the Court agreed with the district court in concluding a special relationship did not exist between Defendant and the resident. Specifically, Defendant was providing rehabilitation services to residents that voluntarily agreed to participate in its program. The residents were not committed or under any court order to remain at Defendant’s facility. Therefore, Defendant could not be held legally responsible for the actions of its resident.

Holman v. DAC, Inc., No. 18-1473 (Iowa Ct. App. November 6, 2019).

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