The new teen drivers are out in force for the summer season, giving their parents a lot to be anxious about. Among the countless fears parents have every time their teen takes the wheel should be their own liability.
Under California law, adults are liable for minors’ fault behind the wheel of a car.
It all starts with the signing of the minor’s driver’s license application: the parent or guardian who signs and verifies a minor’s driver’s license application is jointly and severally liable with the minor for damage caused by the minor’s negligent or wrongful operation of a motor vehicle (Veh C §17707), unless the minor was acting as another person’s agent or employee (Veh C §17710).
This liability continues as long as the teen is a minor unless the minor’s license is canceled or involuntarily revoked. But temporary suspension is insufficient to cut off liability.
And parents aren’t necessarily off the hook if the minor is driving in another state either, because a sister state’s judgment against a signing parent may be enforced in California when the minor caused injuries in the sister state while permissively operating the parent’s vehicle in that state. Indiana Ins. Co. v Pettigrew (1981) 115 CA3d 862, 867.
Parent liability can also be based on permitting the minor to drive the car on a highway, even if the minor isn’t licensed. Veh C §17708. This liability exists even if the car the minor is driving is actually owned by the minor. Hughes v Wardwell (1953) 117 CA2d 406, 407.
So, if you’re a parent of a 16 or 17-year-old driver, or have a client who is, you need to know about more than just the rules of the road. Parent liability for their teens’ fault while driving can be a surprise that adds much more than insult to injury.
Get up to speed on everything to do with tort cases involving automobiles with CEB’s California Tort Guide, chapter 4. Handling a car accident case? You can get completely filled-in samples of the key forms you need in CEB’s new California Tort Forms From Expert Litigators, chapter 2. And for discussion of the major liability insurance cases and insurance statutes, as well as full analysis of the standard automobile insurance policy provisions, turn to CEB’s California Automobile Insurance Law Guide.
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