July 14, 2007 (Original publish date) • By Dennis Beaver
I read two of your columns that deal with a situation we are facing at home with our 16-year-old daughter, Kelly. In one, you talked about what can happen if you loan your car to a friend who causes an accident. If I understood correctly, the legal term Permissive Use means that if I give permission for someone else to drive my car, and they cause an accident, then I am financially responsible.
The other article discussed the responsibility of parents for injury or accidents caused by their children. Well, Mr. Beaver, Kelly drove our car to a girlfriend’s home and consumed some amount of alcohol while there, we believe. That girl is 15 and only has a learner’s permit. The two agreed that Kelly should not drive, and the other would therefore drive her home, in our car. On their way home, they stopped at a McDonald’s and while in the parking lot, the 15-year-old confused the accelerator for the brake pedal, and floored it, smashing my car into a new BMW. No one was hurt, but is going to cost over $10,000 to repair the Beemer!
Who is responsible? Will our insurance pay, or are the girl’s parents liable? If our’s pays, will our rates increase? We will follow your recommendations to the letter! Thanks, longtime readers, Kathy and Steve.
First things first — no more car!
As soon as that e-mail came in, I phoned my readers. “You are far luckier than you realize,” I said to them both.
“What do you mean lucky?” Steve replied.
“For two reasons; first, your daughter wasn’t hurt, and second, now Mommy and Daddy are going to take the keys away from her for a long, long time, aren’t they?”
Both laughed, and agreed.
Surprisingly, these parents did not realize that California law places a number of significant restrictions on the rights of teenagers to drive. The new license is called a provisional driver’s license, and among many of the limitations, for new teenage drivers it is illegal to transport passengers under the age of 20 at any time, under most circumstances. Space makes it impossible to analyze the law in detail here, but the DMV has an excellent discussion on its Web site. If you have teenage children, it is extremely important to understand these laws.
Kelly violated the law in driving the family car without adult supervision and then in allowing her 15-year-old friend to drive it, aside from any alcohol related-issues.
If the California Motor Vehicle Department becomes aware of this accident, I suspect both girls will lose their privilege to drive a car for a fairly long time.
The insurance issues here can be extremely complex, so there was no way I could give a clear answer to my reader’s question. If you have a teenage driver, this story could be important to discuss with your insurance agent. Usually insurance follows the car. That is, if I am driving my own car and cause an accident, my auto insurance pays the bills. If I loan you my car and you cause an accident, probably we will have the same result — with some limitations on what my insurance company will pay.
But note I said “probably.” Some insurance companies have a very limited definition of a permissive user. My reader’s policy stated that a “Permissive User is anyone who drives the vehicle with the permission of the insured.” As the only listed insureds were Kathy and Steve, and they certainly did not give permission to the 15-year-old girlfriend to drive the car, this claim could easily be denied.
And, if denied, then what? Here is where it becomes interesting.
Under California law, the parents of that 15-year-old girl are legally responsible for her negligence in hitting the accelerator instead of the brake. They are, in my opinion, doubly responsible, as she engaged in an illegal act — that of driving with only a learner’s permit.
But you could also argue that the 16-year-old violated the law by allowing her to drive, thus involving her parents, my readers, as well!
I suggested they do nothing for the time being. The owner of that BMW should have insurance, and once her car is repaired, that insurance company will go looking for repayment from everyone in sight.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.