You hear the stories on the news all the time: a newly licensed teen driver – or worse, a child too young to even legally have a license – takes his parents’ car keys and goes joyriding, then causes an accident. Suddenly, innocent people are faced with property damage to their vehicle, serious personal injuries, and with medical bills to pay. But the child doesn’t have any money, and he may not even be insured!
What can the victims do? Can the child’s parents be held legally responsible for their child’s actions?
In Texas, the answer may be yes!
In Texas, parents have a duty to control and reasonably discipline their children, and parents who negligently fail to exercise this duty can be held responsible. Parents are not held liable just because their child has hurt someone. Rather, the parents must have reasonably anticipated the consequences of their actions under the circumstances. This is called “foreseeability.”
But what “circumstances” create parental liability? Talk to the experts at Jim Adler & Associates!
Each case must be decided based on its unique facts!
Whether a child’s accident was “foreseeable” is a case-by-case determination.
For example, Texas courts have held a mother liable when she left her children in the back seat of her running car unattended, the children crawled into the front, and their play crashed the car into a nearby building and pedestrian. See Moody v. Clark
, 266 S.W.2d 907 (Tex. Civ. App.—Texarkana 1954, writ ref’d n.r.e.).
However, Texas courts have rejected liability for parents who entrusted a motor boat to their 13-year-old daughter, even though the daughter caused an accident, because there was no evidence the parents knew or should have known their daughter was an incompetent or reckless boater. See Newkumet v. Allen
, 230 S.W.3d 518 (Tex. App.—Eastland 2007, no pet.).
The ultimate question is whether a “reasonable” parent would have foreseen the dangers of his or her actions or inaction. Courts will consider whether the child lacked a driver’s license or had a history of reckless or incompetent conduct that would have put the parents on notice of a danger.
Texas limits parental liability for property damage caused by a child’s wrongful conduct in some circumstances. If the child’s conduct was “willful and malicious,” the parents’ liability is limited to $25,000, plus court costs and reasonable attorney’s fees. Tex. Fam. Code § 41.002. There is no such limit for merely negligent conduct.
This law protects parents from paying for serious conduct when only their children should be blamed. However, it may also result in injured parties receiving too little money for their injuries.
Injured parties may also receive inadequate compensation if there are insurance coverage issues. For instance, homeowners insurance can cover acts that take place away from the home, but most policies expressly exclude acts with an automobile. And while many auto insurance policies cover people using the car with the policyholder’s permission, some insurers issue cheap “named driver” policies with less coverage.
Only Jim Adler can fight the insurance companies and get you the coverage you deserve!