California Civil Parental Liability: Minor Child Driving a Motor Vehicle

Obtaining a driver’s license is a major rite of passage for teenagers in California and across the United States. Sadly, parents often forget to explore the potential liability issues involved in allowing their child to drive their automobile, or any automobile at all. The most common example is a teenager being at fault for a fender bender accident and causing the family’s insurance rates to go up, but what about the more extreme examples of teenage driving accidents? What if your minor child drives your automobile under the influence of alcohol? The short answer is you, as the parents of the intoxicated teenager, will be legally liable for any damages caused by this conduct.

All California parents need to explore parental liability for teenage driving prior to signing for a license for their teenager or allowing their teenager to use the family car. Parents need to be aware of three situations in which parental liability with a minor driving a motor vehicle can occur:

1. Parents who sign for a child’s license to drive will be liable for motor vehicle injuries caused by that child until the child is either eighteen or the parent(s) withdraw support for the driver’s license. In California, parents signing for a driver’s license attaches “strict liability,” which means negligence does not need to be proven on the parents end—just the fact that the parents allowed and supported the teenager to drive a motor vehicle;

2. Parental liability can apply under a theory of law called negligent entrustment. When the parents of a child are aware of (or should be aware of) a history of problems with drugs or alcohol, prior DUIs or other significant factors, and sill allow their minor child to borrow or use their vehicle—or even another person’s vehicle—liability may apply;

3. Parental liability can also be imposed under a theory of law called negligent parenting. This type of liability can potentially be imposed on any personal injury action including assault, rape, or bullying. Parents usually encounter this claim as the result of their minor child’s DUI or reckless driving accidents. As with negligent entrustment, an injured person who files a claim must show the parent knew (or should have known) the minor child needed to be supervised during the activity.

Mark C. Blane is a San Diego Child Injury/Accident Attorney and the managing lawyer of the Law Offices of Mark C. Blane, a San Diego, California Personal Injury Law Office dedicated to representing families of minor children injured due to the negligence of others. If you or a loved one, who is a minor child, has been injured or killed in a child accident in San Diego, please order your free copy of Mr. Blane's book, The 10 Secrets You Need To Know About Your Injury Case, BEFORE You Call A Lawyer. It is full of helpful information that will help you protect your legal rights and it normally sells for $16.95.  However, it is free to all California residents, or those injured in a California accident. Also, you can check out Mr. Blane's book on California child injuries called Justice for the Injured Child available for sale; this book has become a California parent's legal survival guide to their child's California accident case. 

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