HOW DOES THE COURT DETERMINE WHICH LAWS CAN BE USED TO ESTABLISH A CLAIM OF NEGLIGENCE PER SE?
Sometimes the black letter law passed by the legislature is unclear. The legislature can’t anticipate every possible fact scenario when they pass a law, so it lay to the courts to interpret the law and give guidance to what it means. This interpretation is called case law. When the court decides a certain meeting to the law it essentially answers a legal question. Lawyers and other courts then can rely on that ruling when they have a similar issue in their case. The following case answers the question above.
Dibrill v. Normandy Associates, Inc., 383 S.W.3d 77 (Mo. Ct. App. 2012).
This case addresses the following issue:
How does the court determine which laws can be used to establish a claim of negligence per se?
Not all violations of statutes are appropriate for establishing a claim of negligence per se. Id. at 84. Instead, both the injury and the plaintiff must “qualify.” Id. An injury qualifies if it is the type of injury the General Assembly sought to prevent by passing the law. Id. A plaintiff is appropriate if he or she is the type of person the General Assembly sought to protect in passing the law. Id. Looking to the statutes at issue here, the court found that Plaintiff “was a member of the class of persons the regulations were intended to protect and her injury was the kind the regulations were intended to prevent.” Id. at 85-86. Thus, her claim for negligence per se was proper and valid. Id. at 86.
This case arises from a rape that occurred by a housekeeper of Defendant. Id. at 82. Plaintiff was a disabled woman living at Defendant’s nursing center. Id. at 81. Following the incident, which violated several provisions of the Missouri Omnibus Nursing Home Act, or MONHA, Plaintiff filed suit against Defendant and several others. Id. at 84. The trial court dismissed Plaintiff’s claims, citing the fact that MONHA was not an appropriate statute to support a claim of negligence per se. Id. at 83-84.
The court noted that a negligence per se claim is really a reflection of conduct the General Assembly has pronounced to be that of “a reasonable person.” Id. at 84. Thus, when an individual violates such statues, they breach that duty and are thereby negligent. Id. The requirements that the injury and plaintiff “fit” within the statutory scheme is simply a means of ensuring the General Assembly’s wishes are carried out, rather than manipulated. Id. at 85.
Looking at MONHA, the court found that “the two prerequisites for a negligence per se claim are present.” Id. at 85. MONHA was “designed to prevent…physical and emotional abuse in the nursing homes.” Id. Thus, the type of harm is precisely what the General Assembly sought to prevent. Id. Further, the Missouri Supreme Court, in a previous case, had indicated that a nursing home resident is exactly the type of person MONHA seeks to protect. Id. Finding these two factors met, the court disagreed with the conclusion of the trial court and reversed its dismissal of Plaintiff’s negligence per se claim. Id. at 86.