In January of 2006, grandmother Hannalore Hoffmann offered to help her daughter by taking her 6-month-old granddaughter Molly when the child didn't go back to sleep after an early morning feeding. It was 5:30 a.m., and the Australian family was on vacation together at a rental cottage. Hoffman held the baby in her arms as she headed downstairs, but she stumbled on the stairs -- and unfortunately, she fell to the bottom, still grasping little Molly.
The baby was badly injured, and today the 5-year-old girl is severely disabled as a result of the fall.
It sounds like a tragic, random accident ... but shockingly, Hoffman's daughter and son-in-law sued her for tripping on those steps in 2006. Even more shocking: this week the court ruled against the grandmother and found her legally responsible for the child's head injuries.
In court, Hoffman claimed that she had been to the holiday home several times and knew the staircase well. She'd asked her daughter to keep the light on in the room to illuminate the stairs—but she didn't turn on the staircase lights themselves, out of concern she'd wake other family members.
More from The Stir: Toddler Rides Bike Into Rush Hour Traffic While Grandpa Is Babysitting (VIDEO)
Although she says she descended slowly and carefully, she still lost her footing towards the bottom, and although she reached for the balustrade it didn't stop her fall.
In his court decision on Tuesday, Justice Robert Shallcross Hulme said,
Did (Hoffmann) exercise such care in this case? In my view she did not. I accept that she thought that she was being careful. I accept that often babies are attended to in the middle of the night, and in order that other members of a household are not disturbed, without lights being turned on. Nevertheless, when regard is had to the totality of circumstances ... I am persuaded that she did not take that reasonable care.
So now liability has been established and I assume they'll move on to damages, and this grandmother—who has surely lost any kind of family connection with her daughter and granddaughter by now, not to mention dealing with the guilt—will probably lose every last cent show owns.
I don't know about you, but I think it's unbelievably awful the family sued this woman. I mean, assuming she wasn't DRUNK or something, this sounds like the sort of accident that could have happened to anyone. Yes, she probably should have turned on the light, but it was a mistake made at 5:30 a.m. while she was trying to help the whole family get some sleep—and who's to say that would have stopped her from falling anyway?
The accident is tragic enough on its own, I can't imagine how it could possibly help anyone to break up the family for the sake of a lawsuit. I feel terrible for everyone involved, but maybe especially for Mrs. Hoffman, who surely would give anything to go back to that morning ... and let her daughter be the one to deal with her wakeful baby.
What do you think of this story? Can you imagine suing your own parent for an accident that happened on their watch?
Image via Flickr/lilzeto