Parent Faces Liability for Automobile Accident Involving Child

A Superior Court judge has ruled that an individual injured in an automobile accident can bring a claim for negligent entrustment against a mother whose disabled adult son allegedly caused the crash. The mother and her son, who suffered from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)—for which he took medication, were registered co-owners of the vehicle involved in the accident. The mother, who lived primarily in California at the time of the accident but helped her son with living expenses and helped pay for the car involved, argued she could not be liable for negligent entrustment because she did not control the vehicle, did not know of her son’s alleged unfitness to operate it, and that such unfitness did not cause the accident.

To establish a claim for negligent entrustment of an automobile, the injured party must show that an individual owned or controlled the motor vehicle in question, and that the individual gave the driver permission to operate the vehicle. Moreover, the injured party must establish that the driver was an incompetent or unfit person whose incompetence or unfitness was the cause of their injuries, and that the individual had actual knowledge of the incompetence or unfitness of the operator to drive the vehicle. In this case, the mother was aware that her son had previously been involved in car accidents. Her son also admitted to police that on the day of the accident he had not taken his medication, which usually helps him with depth perception, spacing and distance.

On a motion for summary judgment, the Court determined that genuine issues of material fact existed over the elements of the mother’s control over her son’s use of the vehicle, over whether her son was unfit to drive because of not taking his medication, and whether the mother had actual knowledge of that unfitness because of her involvement with her son’s doctor as it specifically pertained to her requests for refills of her son’s medication. As such, the case will now proceed to a jury trial.

The ruling in this case, which allows the negligent entrustment claim to proceed to trial, opens the door for potential suits where a vehicle’s owner could be held liable if the operator of their vehicle has a history of prior accidents that are known by the owner.


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