The parents of Cosmo DiNardo are facing a wrongful death suit in Philadelphia brought by the parents of Mark Sturgis, a 20-year-old victim from Bensalem, for allowing him access to their gun. DiNardo, who struggled with mental illness, was alleged to have killed four men on his family's Bucks County farm using a firearm belonging to his parents. The victims were found buried upon the family property in Solebury Township. DiNardo faces criminal charges for killing these victims during a supposed drug deal.
Basis of the Claim
This civil case asserts that the DiNardos were aware their son had mental health problems and tendencies toward violence, but did not take precautions to restrict access to their handgun. The parents are said to have allowed a dangerous condition to exist on their property. Sturgis' father says the DiNardos demonstrated carelessness and negligence in this situation. This civil matter will involve several aspects of law including negligence, comparative negligence, premises liability and third-party liability.
Negligence in Pennsylvania can be summarized as a failure to act with the degree of care that another reasonable person would under similar circumstances. In proving negligence in this case the plaintiff must:
- Show that a duty of care existed between the defendants and the deceased
- Prove that the defendants breached (failed) in this exercising this duty
- Show that this breach was what caused the death
Premises liability refers to a duty that a land owner or possessor has to protect those upon their land from dangerous conditions that exist. This duty primarily exists to protect those knowingly upon the land of the defendant, thus a trespasser is not owed the same level of care as guests. For an injured plaintiff to prove that the land owner or possessor was negligent, they must prove that a dangerous condition existed and that either the defendant created or contributed to the harmful condition, or was aware of the presence of the condition.
The comparative negligence concept assigns negligence (fault) proportionally among parties in a claim, which may include the plaintiff, if found to have “contributed” to their own injury to some extent. The amount of negligence allocated to the plaintiff may not exceed the amount allocated to the defendant(s). Recoverable damages are ultimately reduced by a fractional (proportional) percentage of negligence that the plaintiff contributed to their injuries.
Third-Party Defendant Liability
In the wrongful death case of Sturgis v. DiNardo described above, the plaintiffs are pursuing damages from the parents, although they did not actually commit the actions that led to the death of the plaintiff's son. In this case, the claim states that the parents “allowed” a potentially dangerous condition to exist, or did not take action to prevent a potentially dangerous situation from occurring. A similar third-party defendant scenario might be a landlord who is not physically in control of the premises where his or her tenants live when an event leading to injury happened.