Parental Liability for Car Accidents and the Family Purpose Doctrine

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Your parenting is judged from the moment you give birth; everyone has an opinion on what you are doing and how you should be doing it. As our children grow up, some of us find ourselves in an uncomfortable position where the behavior of our child is such that others are injured, or their property is damaged. As stressful as it is to have others blaming your parenting for the behavior of your children, it is greatly magnified by the discovery that you are being sued because of something your child did.

Whether you are to blame or not, and even if you would rather teach your child responsibility for their own actions, the law may not always allow it. Even if your decision would be to instill some tough love and have your child be responsible for the financial consequences of their actions, the law does not always let the parents go without bearing any financial responsibility.

When Can Parents Be Held Liable?

South Carolina, like several other states, holds parents responsible for bodily injury and property damage caused by their minor children, in certain circumstances. The law defines minor children as those under the age of 18. South Carolina allows recovery for damages in a civil lawsuit against the parents or guardians if (1) the minor lives with the parents or guardian, and (2) the actions of the minor were done willfully or maliciously. This is not limited to situations where the minor causes property damage or bodily injuries as the result of a driving accident, but that is often the case.

Whoever signs a minor’s driver’s license application becomes liable if the minor drives negligently, if there is not enough auto insurance to cover the damage. Parental responsibility does not completely absolve the minor; in most circumstances, the law limits parental liability to $5,000.  Also, although the limit of parental responsibility is $5,000, there is no limit for the minor. Any excess amount awarded to the injured party is to be paid by the minor.

When Your Liability Exceeds $5,000

You cannot prevent liability, but your actions can remove the $5,000 liability cap, so be aware. If your behavior is such that it may foreseeably lead to the injuries or damages your minor child causes, then you can be held liable for damages in excess of $5,000. One example of this type of liability arises under the family purpose doctrine. The family purpose doctrine provides that any parent who allows a minor child to use the family car without restriction may be liable for more than the $5,000 limit if the minor is involved in a car accident, and causes major damage and injury.

For the family purpose doctrine to apply, the person bringing the lawsuit must be able to prove that: (1) the person they are suing is the head of the family; (2) the person being sued owns, maintains, and provides a vehicle; (3) the vehicle is for the general use and convenience of the whole family; and (4) the family member who caused the accident is (a) allowed to operate the vehicle for those purposes and (b) was negligent.

David Aylor Law Offices Can Help You

You need an experienced car accident attorney if you have been injured in a car accident caused in whole or in part by an underage driver.  You can call or email the David Aylor Law Offices today for a free, no obligation consultation.

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