According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), younger drivers have the highest accident rate of any demographic. Drivers between the ages of 16 and 20 have been found to be nearly three times more likely to be involved in a motor vehicle accident than older drivers. With that knowledge, do parents who allow their children to drive have any liability for the accidents in which they are involved?
Legal Theories under Which a Parent May Be Liable
As a general rule, any claim against a parent for the wrongful acts of a child must be based on negligence:
- The parent did not act as a reasonable person would
- The failure to act reasonably caused an accident
- As a result of the accident, another person suffered actual loss
There are two specific legal theories under which parents have been found to have liability for the wrongful acts of their children: negligent entrustment and vicarious liability.
To succeed in a claim based on negligent entrustment, you must show that the parent’s decision to allow the child to drive the car was not reasonable. Typically, that would involve knowledge that the child posed an unreasonable risk of injury to others. It may stem from prior acts of carelessness or it may be attributable to the minor’s lack of experience. If the parent knew or had reason to know that the minor child posed the risk, there can be liability.
The legal principle of vicarious liability is rooted in the law of agency. Where there’s a “agent-principal” relationship—one party acting on behalf of the other—the acts of the agent will customarily be attributed to the principal. Accordingly, if a parent sends a minor child on an errand, the parent will likely be considered a principal and the child their agent, leading to potential liability.
Contact Mallon & Tranger
We offer a free initial consultation to people in New Jersey who have suffered a personal injury. To set up a meeting, contact us online or call us at 732-410-6094 (toll free at 877-320-0692) for an appointment. We have offices in Freehold, Toms River and Point Pleasant.