Are the Parents Responsible?
Updated: Mar 23, 2019
The first civil lawsuit has been filed over the Santa Fe massacre. In a suit filed in County Court in Galveston, the parents of one the many murdered students have sued Antonios Pagourtzis and Rose Marie Kosmetatos, who are the parents of the admitted killer Dimitrios Pagourtzis.
The lawsuit alleges that Dimitrios used his parents’ 38 caliber handgun and sawed-off shotgun to commit the massacre. It accuses them of “negligent and grossly negligent failure to properly secure their guns and keep them out of the hands of their minor son.” The suit also claims that the defendants “utterly failed to teach their son any respect for life whatsoever.” It accuses them of failing to secure their weapons, permitting Dimitrios access to them, failing to obtain mental health counseling services for him, failing to warn the public of his dangerous propensities and negligently entrusting their weapons to him.
What are the victims’ chances of convincing a Galveston jury that the parents are responsible for the killings? The answer is that it is too soon to know. In Texas, parents are not automatically responsible if their child injures someone. More has to be shown. For instance, parents can be liable for their own negligence with respect to a child’s actions (1) when the parent negligently allows the child to act in a manner likely to harm another, (2) when a parent entrusts the child with a dangerous instrumentality (such as a car, or in this case a gun), or (3) when the parent fails to restrain a child known to have dangerous tendencies. Proving “negligence” simply means showing that the parents did something that a reasonably prudent parent wouldn’t have done, or failing to do something that a reasonably careful parent would have.
“Negligent entrustment” usually comes up in auto cases. If I entrust my car to a drunk driver, or an unlicensed teen driver, or someone who I know is a reckless driver, I can be liable if the driver causes an accident. A few Texas appellate courts have held that negligent entrustment also applies to firearms. The Texas Supreme Court has never ruled on the issue. If the Plaintiffs in this case can lay the factual groundwork, and show that Dimitrios’ parents gave him access to their guns, and knew or should have known that he was considering harming others, then they may be able convince the jury of negligent entrustment. And if it gets that far, it would be one hell of a good occasion for the Texas Supreme Court to finally hold that a gun owner can be liable if he entrusts a firearm to someone he knows or should know to be unstable or dangerous. Note that “negligent entrustment” doesn’t apply to sales. So a car dealership can’t be liable for selling a car to a reckless driver, and the same would be true for gun shops/sales.
So the case is going to turn on the discovery process, and what the victims’ lawyers can uncover about what went on, or didn’t go on, in the Pagourtzis’ home. His parents gave a post-incident statement to the press, where they seemed to deny having knowledge of any dangerous tendencies, and implied that Dimitrios was the victim of bullying. But statements like that won’t be enough to escape liability if the jury can be convinced that the parents had their “heads in the sand” and ignored warning signs, such as his chilling social media posts, year round “duster’ jacket and violence-themed t-shirts and pins. My guess is that it will be difficult for his parents to sell the jury on the idea that they didn’t know, nor even had reasons to know, that it would be a bad idea to give him access to their guns. In other words, their best defense may be to argue that they were completely oblivious to his tendencies, and that Dimitrios was so good at concealing his plans that NO reasonable parent would have been able to foresee the carnage that took place. We’ll see.
The victim’s parents have NOT sued Dimitrios, only his parents. There were tactical reasons for this, but that’s a discussion for another day.
Peace to all the victims, and their families and friends.