Frederick Friesenhahn, Nancy Friesenhahn and Todd Friesenhahn, Appellees (911 S.W.2d 113)
Summary of Facts
This is an appeal arising out of a judgment delivered by the District Court in Bexan County in the United States whereby a summary judgment was awarded in favor of the respondents. The Parents of Sabrina a minor who was involved in a car accident and died as a result, brought an action against the parents of a fellow minor who had organized the party which she was from when the accident and death occurred.
Their claim was based on the fact that the deceased who was a minor was intoxicated on her way home and that is why she was involved in an accident. The deceased parents claimed that the parents of the minor who had hosted the part should be held liable for negligence as per the provisions of the common law and the death of their child.
1. Was the trial court fair in granting the respondents summary judgment?
2. Were the respondents liable for negligence?
3. Did the trial court error in denying the Applellants a chance to replead?
The trial court ruled in favor of the respondents thus the appellants brought an appeal at the court of appeal in Texas .The court of appeal ruled in favor of the appellant by reversing the ruling of the trial court.
On addressing whether the appellees were entitled to summary judgment, the court of appeal addressed the instances where summary judgment is applicable. The first instance is whereby the judgment would not be affected if a pleading was amended as per the holding in swilley vs Hughes and secondly if it does not interfere with the judgment right of either parties. The appellate court was of the opinion that the appellants were entitled to amend their pleadings on behalf of their deceased minor .This is because amending their pleadings would affect the judgment.
In this case, the trial court awarded the appellees summary judgment before the appellants could amend their pleadings. They argued that their case was to come up for hearing in November but the summary judgment was heard in October. The appellants thus argued that it was almost impossible for them to comply with the order that they should serve the motion for the amendment of the pleadings on behalf of their deceased minor twenty five days before trial or within six days as per the exceptions awarded by the trial court.
The appellate court held that summary judgment can only apply in regard to amending of pleadings if the plaintiff refuses to comply with the amendment orders given as in the case of cox vs Galena park indep,schl Dist and this did not apply to the appellants case.
In addressing the issue of whether the appellees were liable for negligence , the appellate court considered the allegations of the appellants. The appellants claimed that Friesenhans were liable for negligence due to the following grounds ; they allowed their child who was a minor to hold a beer party in their premises as well as inviting other minors in the said event, they allowed the minors who had attended the party to go on with the partying even after discovering that they were drinking , they failed to take charge of the part as the minor’s parents by controlling unlawful activities such as the drinking of alcohol at the party and finally by allowing their deceased minor to leave the it premises and drive
Based on the foregoing grounds, the appellate court applied common law elements of negligence as it was held in Great Houston Transp.Co .Vs Phillips .They include the presence of a care duty , actual breach of the duty and the occurrence of harm. In addition, the appellate court went ahead to consider factors such as foreseeability and the risk in regard to occurrence of harm and what could have precipitated the harm
Reference was made to ``Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code’’ which provided that it was an offence for a person to offer alcoholic drinks to any minor. In this case, Friesenhans knew that the minors who had attended the party in their premises had carried and were consuming alcohol. This means that they knew that the minors risked injury or death as a result of intoxication thus they had knowledge that a risk was likely to occur .Most of the minors arrived at the party using their own cars .It was logical for them to think that they would use the same cars to go back to their homes thus they should not have allowed them to use their cars knowing very well that they were intoxicated and that the likelihood of engaging in an accident was probable.
The court further referred to Fuller vs Maxus Energy Corp and was of the view that Friesenhans should not have allowed the minors to consume the alcohol because it is unlawful. Further, the court stated that adults have a duty to practice diligence by supervising minors in parties which involve legal activities but are potentially harmful thus Friesenhans had a greater responsibility of caring for the minors during the party bearing the fact that they minors were drinking alcohol .
In addressing the issue whether the trial court committed an error in denying the appellants a chance to replead, the appellate court held that it did. This was based on the fact that the trial court had awarded the appellants exceptions to amend the pleadings on behalf of Sabrina their deceased minor in order to state their cause of action. This was to happen before the hearing date in November but it could not happen because a sitting whereby a summary judgment was awarded to appellees was held on October thus making it difficult for the appellants to comply with the exception.
Based on the analysis presented herein, the appellate court ruled in favour of the appellants by reversing the decision of the trial court.
The appellate court decision was fair because it cured the injustice which had been committed by the trial court through reversing and remanding the summary judgment it had delivered.