Aetna Ins. Co. v. Richardelle

In Aetna Ins. Co. v. Richardelle, 528 S.W.2d 280 (Tex. Civ. App.--Corpus Christi 1975, writ ref'd n.r.e.), application of a newly enacted parental-liability statute deprived an insurer of the ability to enforce a favorable jury verdict. Id. at 282. The verdict was against the Richardelles, parents of an eleven-year-old child who set fire to a residence. Id. Aetna, which insured the residence, sued the parents to recover funds paid to the homeowners on their fire-damage claim. Id. Although the right to attribute liability to parents for the torts of their minor children was not recognized at common law, id. at 285.; see also In re D.M., 191 S.W.3d 381, 388 (Tex. App.--Austin 2006, pet. denied), a statute in effect on the date of the fire in 1972 allowed property owners to seek compensation from parents whose children were at least ten years old when they damaged or destroyed property maliciously. 528 S.W.2d 283. That parental-liability statute was repealed on January 1, 1974, with the addition of a new title to the family code, the day before Aetna filed suit. Id. The new law still allowed parents to be held liable for any property damage caused by the willful and malicious conduct of their children, but it raised the minimum age of the child to twelve. Id. Because the Richardelles' son was eleven years old when he set fire to the house, this statute afforded the Richardelles a new statutory defense to Aetna's suit. Aetna argued that the suit should be governed by the law in effect when the Richardelles' son set the fire and that the new law destroyed its vested right to proceed against the parents of ten-and eleven-year-old children who committed willful and malicious torts. Id. Rejecting Aetna's assertion of a vested right, the court stated that no person has a vested right to a particular remedy accorded by law, either at common law or by statute. Id. at 284. It noted that the statute giving Aetna the right to sue the Richardelles was repealed before proceedings commenced to enforce such right, and before the repeal Aetna had not been granted final relief on the enforcement of its demand. Id. at 285-86.