Van Camp v. McAfoos

156 N.W.2d 878 (1968)

Quick Summary

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Marianne Van Camp (plaintiff) sued Mark McAfoos (defendant), a three-year-old child, and his parents after being injured by Mark riding his tricycle on the sidewalk. The primary dispute was whether Mark or his parents could be held liable for Van Camp’s injuries.

The Iowa Supreme Court concluded that neither Mark nor his parents could be held liable because Van Camp failed to plead sufficient facts to establish wrongful conduct or parental negligence.

Facts of the Case

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Marianne Van Camp (plaintiff) was walking on a public sidewalk when she was struck by a tricycle ridden by Mark McAfoos (defendant), a three-year-old child. This collision resulted in an injury to Van Camp’s leg, specifically her Achilles’ tendon, which required surgery.

Subsequently, Van Camp initiated a lawsuit against Mark McAfoos and his parents, Patricia R. McAfoos and William C. McAfoos (defendants), seeking compensation for her injuries. Van Camp’s claim against the child was based on the fact that he, without warning, collided with her as she used the sidewalk.

The claim against the parents centered around their alleged negligence in failing to instruct their babysitter to properly supervise Mark while he was riding his tricycle, which they knew could create an unreasonable risk of harm to others using the sidewalk.

Procedural Posture and History

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  1. The trial court sustained McAfoos’s motion to dismiss, ruling that Van Camp did not allege any fault on the part of McAfoos.
  2. Van Camp appealed the trial court’s decision to the Iowa Supreme Court.

I.R.A.C. Format


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  • Whether a three-year-old child can be held liable for injuries caused by riding a tricycle on a sidewalk.
  • Whether the child’s parents can be held liable for negligence in failing to supervise the child properly.

Rule of Law

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A tort is defined as a wrong independent of contract, or as a breach of duty imposed by law. Tortious conduct is characterized as such when it subjects the actor to liability under the principles of tort law. Parents have a duty to control their minor children to prevent them from causing unreasonable risk of harm to others if they know or should know of the necessity and opportunity for exercising such control.

Reasoning and Analysis

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The Iowa Supreme Court assessed whether Van Camp had established a cause of action in her claims against both the child and his parents. The court acknowledged that while a person has a right not to be injuriously touched or struck, liability typically requires some form of fault or wrongdoing, which was not alleged in this case.

Specifically, the court found no statutory or ordinance violation in the child riding a tricycle on the sidewalk and no wrongful action inferred from the child’s conduct as pleaded.

Regarding the parents’ liability, the court referred to the principle that parents have a duty to control their children to prevent harm to others if they know of a child’s dangerous propensities.

However, the court found that Van Camp did not plead any facts indicating that normal use of a tricycle by a three-year-old would create an unreasonable risk requiring special parental precautions. Thus, the court concluded that the petition did not state a cause of action under existing tort principles.


Conclusion Icon

The Iowa Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s decision to dismiss both divisions of Van Camp’s petition, holding that she had not pled sufficient facts to establish liability on the part of the child or his parents under tort law.

Key Takeaways

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  1. A plaintiff must allege ultimate facts showing wrongful conduct or negligence to plead a tort claim successfully.
  2. Liability for injury cannot be imposed without fault or wrongdoing being established.
  3. Parents have a duty to control their children only if they know or should have known of the child’s propensity for conduct that poses an unreasonable risk of harm to others.

Relevant FAQs of this case

What constitutes fault or wrongdoing in tort law?

Fault or wrongdoing in tort law refers to an act or omission that violates a duty of care and leads to injury or harm. A defendant is typically found to be at fault if they have acted negligently, recklessly, or with intentional misconduct.

  • For example: If a store owner fails to clean up a spill in an aisle and a customer slips and suffers an injury, the owner may be held liable for negligence due to the duty of care owed to the customer to keep the premises safe.

How does knowledge of a child's behavior impact parental liability?

Parental liability can be contingent on the knowledge they had about their child’s behaviors or propensities that pose a danger to others. If it is known that a child has dangerous tendencies, the parent is expected to take reasonable measures to prevent harm.

  • For example: If parents are aware that their teenager has a history of joyriding and still allow them access to car keys, they may be held liable if the teenager causes an accident.

What are the criteria for establishing a cause of action in tort?

A cause of action in tort requires the plaintiff to prove that the defendant owed a duty of care, breached that duty through action or inaction, and caused harm or injury directly related to the breach.

  • For example: In a medical malpractice case, a patient must show that a doctor’s deviation from standard medical practices resulted in injury that would not have occurred had the standard been adhered to.


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