Smith v. Freund: Parents Not Held Liable for Murders of Son with Asperger’s

03 Feb

In a case filed (click here for Justice Raymond J. Ikola’s published opinion) on February 2, 2011, the parents of 19-year-old William Freund were held not liable for the murders committed by their son in California in 2005. Freund was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and lived as a dependent with his parents (defendants Karen and Dennis Freund). He shot and killed two people before going home and committing suicide. The victims were members of the immediate family of plaintiffs Denise Smith and her son, Brandon Smith. The plaintiffs sued the Freunds for wrongful death, alleging the defendants negligently supervised their son. Brandon Smith also sued the defendants for negligent infliction of emotional distress.

Orange Superior Court Judge Geoffrey T. Glass granted the Freunds’ motion for summary judgment, finding they owed no duty of care to third parties to control their adult son’s actions. Justice Raymond J. Ikola, who wrote for the appellate court, agreed, reasoning that “[t]he only inference the evidence reasonably supports is that defendants could not foresee William’s violent acts because they knew of no propensity or intention of William to harm third parties (as opposed to himself or his parents).” Ikola noted testimony from William Freund’s treating physicians about the absence of any substantial correlation between Asperger’s Syndrome and physical hostility toward others, and that the medications could cause “suicidal thinking in some patients,” but not “homicidal propensities.”The justice also acknowledged evidence of William Freund’s aggressive conduct toward his parents, but emphasized the record contained only one instance in which he acted in anger toward another person, and he had only lashed out in self-defense after having been struck first. Ikola further reasoned the evidence of alterations in William Freund’s personality shortly before the shootings “may have created a foreseeable risk that William might physically attack his parents (on whom he blamed his problems) or hurt himself, the behavior provided no forewarning that William might shoot and kill the father and sister of his only friend, or any other third party.” To impose a duty of care on defendants, Ikola suggested, “could cause greater harm in future cases by encouraging parents to disassociate from their adult children with chronic serious problems,” emphasizing “[d]efendants cannot be morally blamed for trying to help their son, rather than abandon him.” 


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Posted by on February 3, 2011 in Uncategorized


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