Can Injured Persons Hold Negligent Children and Their Parents Accountable?
Imagine that you’re badly injured in a car accident and insurance doesn’t cover all of your damages. An attorney might advise you to file a personal injury lawsuit against the other driver. But what if the other driver is a teenager?
Most minors are considered judgment proof, which means they don’t have any income or property that can be used to pay damages. In that case, your best legal recourse is to sue the minor’s parents.
The Driver’s License Law
In Florida, minors who apply for a driver’s license must have a parent or guardian sign the application. Signing the application means that the parent or guardian is willing to assume certain obligations. One of those obligations is taking responsibility for the minor’s negligent driving and any resulting injuries or property damage.
For example, if the minor drives faster than the posted speed limit, or drives while texting, or drives under the influence of alcohol, then the minor’s parents can be held legally responsible for any damage that such negligent behavior causes. Once the teen turns 18 years old the parents are off the hook.
When Else Are Parents Liable?
Under Florida law, parents generally cannot be held responsible for a minor’s negligence simply because they are the minor’s parents. There are certain exceptions to this rule (other than the driver’s license law explained above). The Florida Supreme Court described these four exceptions in a 1985 case:
- The parent has entrusted the child with an instrumentality that could be dangerous to others, based on the child’s lack of age, judgment or experience. For example, if the child has access to the parent’s gun and takes it to school, the parent can be held liable for any injuries the child causes.
- The negligent child is acting as the parent’s servant or agent (acting on the parent’s behalf).
- The parent has sanctioned, consented to, or directed the child’s wrongdoing.
- The parent is aware that the child could cause an injury but fails to prevent the child’s misconduct. For example, if the parent knows that his child routinely hits babysitters and the child injures a babysitter, the parent can be held liable for those injuries.
The Florida Supreme Court has also held that children under six years old are “conclusively presumed to be incapable of committing contributory negligence.”
Child liability can be a complicated issue. Accidents happen, but sometimes — if the child acted with reasonable care or if the parent exercised more control over the child — those accidents could be prevented. An experienced attorney can help determine whether the accident that injured you rises to the level of negligence.
Contact Us Today
Contact a Fort Lauderdale personal injury attorney at The Pendas Law Firm today for a free consultation if you were injured by a negligent teen driver or by a minor’s negligent conduct. Our experienced attorneys will explain your legal options and help determine whether you have a viable cause of action against the minor’s parents.
The Pendas Law Firm also represents clients in the Orlando, Jacksonville, West Palm Beach, Fort Myers, Miami, Tampa, Daytona Beach and Bradenton areas.