Appeals Court: Father had no duty to warn of adult son's abuses

Steve Korris Mar. 1, 2010, 1:25pm


Ninth District appeals judges upheld an $11 million verdict against wildlife ranch owner Jason Newsom for abusing boys, but they reversed a $2.2 million verdict against his father for failure to warn the victims.

"There is no evidence in the record that Harold Newsom ever assumed any supervisory responsibility for any of the appellees," Chief Justice Steve McKeithen wrote on Feb. 18.

"Furthermore, there is no evidence that Newsom was present at any time when Newsom knew or should have known that an assault would occur," he wrote.

"Texas courts do not generally impose liability on a parent for the actions of an adult child," he wrote.

Justices David Gaultney and Hollis Horton agreed.

Montgomery County jurors rendered an inconsistent verdict.

On one hand, they failed to find that Harold and Jason operated a joint venture.

On the other hand, they linked Harold and Jason because father and son operated neighboring wildlife ranches and both led bow fishing expeditions on air boats.

Jurors held that Harold's negligence violated state law against endangering children.

Against Jason, jurors awarded $2 million each to four plaintiffs, plus $750,000 each for prejudgment interest.

Against Harold, they awarded $400,000 to each plaintiff, plus $150,000 in interest.

District Judge Frederick Edwards rendered judgment on the verdict.

On appeal, Harold won and Jason lost.

"Because liability for a criminal act committed by a third party cannot be based upon foreseeability alone, in the absence of control or a right of control, we hold that Harold Newsom owed no duty to prevent injuries to the appellees resulting from sexual assaults committed by Newsom's adult child," McKeithen wrote.

To engage in criminal conduct that places a child in danger, he wrote, "the danger must be imminent at the moment the defendant engages in the conduct," he wrote.

He found no evidence that Harold Newsom violated the criminal statute.

Scott Rothenberg represented Harold Newsom.

Dominick Derose represented Jason Newsom.

Richard Howell Jr. and Diana Faust represented the plaintiffs.

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