This case presents issues under the doctrine of parental immunity in a factual context not previously addressed in any prior court decision in this jurisdiction.
A motion for summary judgment was filed by defendant Mary DeMarco, the mother of plaintiff, Josephine DeMarco ("plaintiff" or "Josephine") No genuine issues of material fact are in dispute and the matter is appropriate for summary judgment. Judson v. Peoples Bank & Trust Co. of Westfield, 17 N.J. 67, 110 A.2d 24 (1954).
The parties resided at 309 A Westcoat Avenue in Nesco, New Jersey. Their home had been damaged by fire and on June 16, 1989, the defendant and her seventeen year old daughter were at the home painting. At approximately 6:00 p.m. plaintiff went to the movies with her boy friend. She returned about midnight and asked her mother if her boy friend could spend the night. Her mother told her that he could not. After her boy friend left, plaintiff began an argument with defendant. Mother and daughter subsequently left their home to return to the house in Hammonton where they were temporarily staying. Defendant drove
and plaintiff was seated in the front passenger seat. The car doors were not locked and neither party wore a seat belt.
During the drive plaintiff became both verbally and physically abusive toward her mother. She said she wanted to live her life "the way she wanted to." She resented her mother's interference. During the ride, her mother asked if she had taken any drugs and she responded, in a sarcastic fashion, "Yeah, sure, mom." At that point she began striking her mother in the chest.
Approximately 9 months earlier plaintiff had been hospitalized at the Kessler Memorial Hospital in Hammonton, New Jersey, with a diagnoses of "drug overdose; major depression with suicide attempt." She had been taken to the emergency room after ingesting sleeping pills. During her hospitalization it was determined that a problem had arisen between her and her father with respect to the break-up of her parents' marriage. Plaintiff was discharged three days after admission with no medication, as it was concluded that she no longer exhibited any suicidal ideation.
After hearing Josephine's response concerning drugs, defendant became concerned with her daughter's conduct and decided to drive to the crisis intervention center at the Atlantic City Medical Center, Mainland Division, where a psychiatric intervention unit was available. Defendant is a registered nurse with some limited training in the evaluation of a patient's mental status.
Defendant testified that when she decided to go to the crisis intervention unit, she did so because her daughter had never previously displayed similar aggressive behavior toward her parents. She had never been either verbally or physically abusive toward her mother as she was on the night of the incident. Defendant considered her daughter to be "out of control."
While traveling towards the medical center, defendant was forced to stop the car after plaintiff threatened to get out and walk. When she stopped, Josephine got out and started walking in the direction from which they came. Her mother then backed up ...