High court to decide if parents liable for grown daughter’s suicide

Posted Dec. 31, 2011, at 5:17 p.m.
Last modified Dec. 31, 2011, at 6:47 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — The Maine Supreme Judicial Court has been asked to decide if the parents of an adult daughter were legally obligated to prevent her from committing suicide.

Kristin Cummings, 25, was staying with her parents, James and Jadzia Davie, at their Norway home when she shot herself with her father’s loaded gun on Oct. 10, 2008.

As the representative of her estate, Cummings’ husband, Mitchell Cummings of Bethel, sued his in-laws in May 2010 in Oxford County Superior Court on behalf of his two children, according to briefs filed with the Portland court.

In May 2011, semiretired Maine Supreme Judicial Court Justice Robert Clifford granted summary judgement to the Davies.

“Even when construed most favorably to the plaintiff, plaintiff has not presented sufficient evidence to demonstrate the existence of any legal duty on the part of the parents giving rise to liability for their competent adult daughter’s tragic suicide,” Clifford wrote.

In his appeal, Edward L Dilworth III, the Norway attorney representing the estate, argued that the Davies did owe their daughter a legal duty of care because they had discussed her mental state with a local police officer, called when she went missing for a few hours, and her medical providers — including workers at Stephens Memorial Hospital in Norway — on Oct. 8 and 9, 2008.

“The factual record demonstrates Jadzia and James Davie agreed to and were told by numerous medical providers that Kristin was being discharged to their home, released to their care and must be watched constantly,” Dilworth wrote in his brief. “By taking charge of someone who is unable to adequately aid or protect herself, Jadzia and James Davie assumed two duties: to exercise reasonable care to secure Kristin’s safety while she stayed with them; and to ensure Kristin was in no worse condition than she was in when they took her from [the hospital].

“The facts show that Jadzia and James Davie did not adequately secure Kristin’s safety and put her in a worse condition than she was in by leaving a loaded gun out in the open and unsecured, which allowed Kristin to quickly access the loaded gun and shoot herself.”

Elizabeth A. Germani of Portland said in her brief that the Davies had the loaded gun in their kitchen because they were afraid of their son-in-law.

The parents learned on Oct. 8, 2008, that Mitchell Cummings was abusing their daughter, according to court documents. They also found out he allegedly had threatened to kill her entire family if his wife left him.

“The primary concern was Kristin’s safety from her abusive husband,” the Davies’ attorney said.

When Kristin Cummings turned the gun on herself, her parents were in separate rooms, just a few feet from the kitchen, where the gun was kept, according to Germani’s brief.

“Parents cannot be held liable for failing to prevent their competent 25-year-old daughter from committing suicide,” the lawyer concluded. “Indeed, where medical and law enforcement professionals trained in suicide prevention fail to foresee the imminent suicide of an adult, the parents certainly cannot be held liable for failing to prevent that suicide.”

Oral arguments in the case will be heard on Jan. 10 at the Cumberland County Courthouse in Portland. There is no timeline for when the justices must issue a decision.

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