As parents, we all worry about our kids when they start driving and for a good reason. Traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for teens in the United States. The most common accident caused by new drivers is rear-end collisions due to following to close and failure to keep a proper lookout. Unfortunately, many new drivers are easily distracted, drive too fast, and misjudge stopping distance. What most parents don’t worry enough about is how to limit their liability if their child causes an accident while driving.
There are two primary ways parents are liable when their kids drive and cause an accident in Florida.
Liability when your kids drive your car (Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine)
As the owner of a vehicle, you should be aware that you can be liable for a car accident, even if you are not the one driving. In Florida, there is a legal doctrine called the Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine. Under Florida Statutes, this doctrine states, “the owner who . . . loans a motor vehicle to any permissive user shall be liable for the operation of the vehicle or the act of the operator in connection therewith…” This means that once you, as the owner of a vehicle, allow someone to drive your vehicle, you will be held liable if a permissive user causes a car crash. The most common example of this is when parents allow their kids to drive their vehicles. Since minors are not permitted to title a vehicle in their name, teens usually drive vehicles titled to one or both parents. There is really no reason for married couples to have both their names on the title to a vehicle their teen drives. If your teen causes an accident, both parents whose name appears on the title will be sued in addition to the at-fault teen.
Liability for signing for your kid’s driver’s license
When a person under the age of 18 applies for a driver’s license, the application that is submitted must be signed and verified by the father, mother, or legal guardian. By signing the driver’s license, you become financially responsible for any damages when your kid causes a traffic crash. In legal terms, this means that if your kid causes an accident, you will be jointly and severally liable for any damages that were the result of your kid’s negligence or willful misconduct.
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The best way to limit your liability when your kids drive
The best way to limit your liability when your kids start driving is to make sure the vehicle they drive is owned by the same parent who signed for the child’s driver’s license and plan to transfer ownership of the vehicle to the child when they turn 18.
If you have legal questions ask an expert, ask Dave
David C. Dismuke is a Florida Bar Board Certified Civil Trial lawyer who has represented thousands of people injured in car crashes in Florida. If you have questions about your car crash case, call us at (863) 292-6922 for a free, confidential consultation.