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Is Your Teenage Driving Your Car Tonight?

Posted by attorney Steven Rensch

Is Your Teenage Driving Your Car Tonight? Your children are teenagers. They run your life to the point where you can't remember the day that you and your spouse decided you wanted to have kids. They run your house. They run your TV. They certainly run your budget. And more than likely, they also run your car. We let it happen. Maybe because their demand is so constant that saying "no" becomes exhausting. Maybe because it is so convenient to have them drive themselves rather than us drive them. But most of us worry about them driving, especially at night. Of course, we worry about them getting hurt somehow. And some of us also worry about liability if they run into someone. Are we, as parents, in jeopardy as a result? The answer is probably so. In general, the law does not make you liable for giving your car to someone else when that person negligently runs into someone, as long as that person is not your employee or agent. But there is a long-standing exception called the "family purpose doctrine". What it says is that you, as head of the household and owner of the car, will be liable for the negligence of a family member who hits somebody with your car if you consented, expressly or impliedly, to that person using the car for her "pleasure and convenience". But most of us (who haven't given up) try to monitor the actions of our teenagers, at least by giving instructions or setting restrictions on their use of our cars. Are we still liable under the Family Purpose Doctrine when the child gets in an accident while violating our instructions? Again, the answer is probably so. This answer was provided by a recent Arizona case called Young v. Beck, in which the parents (after a prior accident involving their teenager) gave him the car with the express restriction that he was not to use it to transport his friends. Despite that instruction, the boy drove his friends around the neighborhood "egging" houses and cars. In the process, he hit another vehicle, whose driver sued the parents. Noting that the parents were aware of the boy's prior accident and were benefited by not having to drive him themselves, the Arizona Court of Appeals held that the Family Purpose Doctrine applied and the parents were liable. Good luck.

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