Parental Liability For Automobile Accidents Caused By a Child

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Is a Parent Liable for Automobile Accidents Caused by a Child? 

Under common law (old precedent or custom), a parent is not automatically liable for an automobile accident caused by his/her child just because he/she is the parent. However, a parent might be liable for damages under the following situations: 

  1. The parent was negligent in controlling the child's injuring causing actions that were reasonably foreseeable to the parent;
  2. The parent was negligent in allowing the child to use the automobile under foreseeable dangerous circumstances (e.g. knowing the child was inexperienced and incompetent to operate a car); and 
  3. The child was acting as an agent for the parent at the time of the accident, such as driving the family car for "family purposes."

Besides the common law, each state may have its own statutes that govern when parents may be liable for their children's conduct. These statutes vary from state to state. 

What Does the Injured Party Need To Prove?

Generally, the injured party must first show the following: 

     1. The child acted in a way that caused injuries to the injured party; and
     2. Such act was allowed or caused by the parent's negligence; or
     3. The child was acting as an agent to the parent at the time of the accident. 

Parental Negligence

To sue for parental negligence (#2 above), the injured party must further show that: 

    a. The parent had the duty to control the conduct that caused the injuries and could reasonably have foreseen that conduct;
    b. The parent was negligent in failing to control or to supervise the child and/or negligently let the child to use the car; and
    c. The parent's negligence caused injuries to the injured party. 

Child as Parent's Agent

To sue a parent when his/her child acted as his/her agent (#3 above), the injured party must further show that: 

    a. The child acted as an agent to the parent at the time of the accident; 
    b. The child's conduct was wrongful (i.e. negligent); and 
    c. The child's conduct caused injuries to the injured party. 

Note that if the injured party is suing for parental negligence only, he/she does not need to prove that the child's conduct was wrongful. 

When Is a Child Considered an Agent to the Parent?

 A child may be considered an agent to the parent under the following circumstances:  

  1. There is an employment relationship between the parent and the child (e.g. helping out with the family business); 
  2. The child acts at the parent's request; 
  3. The child operates a family car (i.e. a car purchased and maintained for use by the parents and their family members) for "family purposes." 

For example: If a child was driving his/her parents in the family car for some groceries, then the child would be considered an agent of the parents. 

Generally, the child's conduct can be considered a "family purpose" even if the child is driving the car without the parents being present.

Do I Need an Attorney?

If you or someone you know has been involved in an auto accident you should contact a lawyer as soon as possible. An experienced auto accident lawyer can inform you of your rights and what remedies are available to you. A lawyer can also assist you in dealing with your auto insurance company or represent you if you are sued.

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Last Modified: 01-30-2014 04:01 PM PST

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