Courting Justice: The Thankless Job of Parenting

February 10, 2014

I recently finished working on a trial in federal court in New Jersey. A nine year old girl was standing next to her mother at a clothes display. The girl bent down to pick up a piece of clothing on the floor and an empty hook, hidden from view by clothes hanging above it, went in her eye and out her eyelid. Fortunately, her eye did not suffer permanent damage, however, the hook shredded the muscle that controls the eyelid leaving her with a partial droop.

We were able to present evidence at trial that in the specific area of the store where the child was injured, the manner in which the store arranged clothing racks created a space that could be dangerous to children. We presented evidence that for years the store knew that the display in this area could harm a child and that the harm could have been avoided simply by changing the setup. The store, however, had another idea. Blame the mother.

Their defense was that the mother was not properly supervising her child at the time and that was the reason for the accident. Specifically, the mother permitted her daughter to try on a bathing suit while standing at the racks instead of using the dressing room. The girl’s eye was injured when she bent down to put on her own shirt.

This is not the first time I’ve seen the blame-the-parents defense in action. But in this case, I felt it defied the reality of being a parent. Parents bring their young children to a department store. Simultaneously, the parent has to juggle looking for clothes with keeping a watchful eye over their kid. That is no easy task in and of itself. The child innocuously bends down to pick something up and a hidden hook goes in her eye. How in the world is that the mother’s fault? Because she didn’t go to the dressing room? Please. When did trying on a piece of clothing at the rack suddenly become an act of negligence? I do it. You do it. We’ve had our kids do it to save time and the trouble of schlepping the child over to the dressing rooms. If trying on clothes at the rack is an act of carelessness, then I should win the award for the most negligent clothes shopper in the United States.

The strange part is that there are people who truly believe that the mother was negligent in this situation. They must be super, duper tiger mom and dad parents whose parenting skills are second to none and the envy of their local PTA. I just don’t see it.

And if you need to know, the case settled while the jury was deliberating the verdict.