On February 6, 2024, a Michigan jury found Jennifer Crumbley guilty of four counts of involuntary manslaughter associated with her son Ethan’s mass shooting at an Oxford, Michigan high school that left 11 injured and 4 dead. This is the first case that imposes criminal liability on a parent whose child had committed a mass shooting. Ethan pled guilty to murder and terrorism charges last year and is serving a life sentence. Jennifer Crumbley trial: Michigan jury reaches verdict in historic case against school shooter’s mom | Fox News
According to the facts of the case, Ms. Crumbley had purchased a gun for Ethan and was brought into the school to meet with counselors on the morning of the shooting. It was discovered that Ethan had drawn disturbing images on his homework depicting guns with messages stating, “the thoughts won’t stop, help me” and “blood everywhere.” The prosecutors theorized that Ms. Crumbley could’ve pulled her son from school at that point. She did not, and the shooting took place later that day. Ethan had retrieved a gun that was concealed in his bookbag.
New Hampshire Manslaughter:
In New Hampshire, the criminal act of manslaughter comes in two forms. Section 630:2 Manslaughter. (state.nh.us). Voluntary manslaughter is an intentional murder that is dropped down in severity when the killing happens “in the heat of passion.” The typical fact pattern is when a husband comes home to find his spouse in bed with another man. He has no time to compose his thoughts and snaps. Involuntary manslaughter is an unintentional killing that is caused by reckless conduct. The typical fact pattern is when a severely drunk driver going well over the speed limit causes a fatal crash. If Ms. Crumbley’s case was tried in New Hampshire, the prosecutor would have to prove that her conduct of buying her son a gun and failing to pull him from school which led to the mass shooting was “reckless” to get an involuntary manslaughter conviction.
But the Crumbley manslaughter case involves criminal charges. The reckless standard is higher than what we typically see in civil cases which use a negligence standard. So, the question is, can a parent be held civilly responsible for the tortious conduct of their minor children in New Hampshire? The answer is maybe.
New Hampshire Parental Liability:
New Hampshire courts dismissed a negligent supervision case brought against parents of a child who assaulted another child simply because they knew of his dangerous propensities. Towle v. Kiman | Cases | New Hampshire | Westlaw Edge. But the courts will allow a negligent entrustment case to proceed against parents who entrust their child with their vehicle if they know the driver is particularly dangerous behind the wheel. Prior traffic infractions are insufficient, there would have to be some concrete evidence of prior accidents. All things being equal, the parents are only would be responsible for property damage when their child commits vandalism. Section 507:8-e Action Against Parent for Minor’s Vandalism. (state.nh.us)
However, civil suits deal with financial compensation. Practically speaking, someone who’s injured in a car accident is going to seek recovery from the insurance policy. The individual motorist rarely pays. The insurance policy follows the car, not the driver. So, provided all household members are listed on the policy, it is irrelevant whether the parents are civilly responsible for the child’s tortious conduct. The insurance carrier is who’s paying the bill.
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