Most parents don’t exactly look forward to the day that a child leaves home for the first time in the family automobile. Not only are we concerned for the safety of our offspring, but also for the safety of others. Should the worst happen, what are the legal consequences in Pennsylvania for parents if a minor child is involved in a motor vehicle accident? Who is responsible?
Once a child reaches the age of majority, his parents can no longer be held responsible for his actions. In Pennsylvania, the age of majority for entering into contracts suing and being sued is age 18. However, until a minor reaches the age of 18, 23 Pa. C.S.A. § 5502 states the parents of a child found liable or deemed guilty of a tortious act are liable to the injured parties. Of course, since causing a motor vehicle accident is a tortious act, parties injured by the acts of a minor driver may file a civil suit directly against the child’s parent(s). This imputed negligence applies to both natural and adoptive parents but not to any parents who, at the time of the commission of the tortious act, neither had, nor were entitled to, custody of the child.
Pennsylvania statutory law limits parents’ liability in this situation to $1,000 for one victim, or $2,500 for more than one victim. In the event a victim’s actual loss exceeds $2,500, the parent’s $2,500 payment discharges the parent from any further liability.
Pennsylvania courts have held that if a minor is found operating a vehicle in a negligent manner on the highway without a driver’s license, and in an unlicensed vehicle, a court may conclude that the minor committed a willful tortious act, and § 5502 is therefore applicable. Kelly v. Sechrist, 18 Pa. D. & C. 4th 514 (Com. Pl. 1993).
Parent/owners of motor vehicles may be liable under a negligent entrustment theory, which would apply if parents entrust the family car to a teen that has been involved in numerous accidents or other incidents of unsafe driving like tailgating or speeding. The elements of a negligent entrustment case are as follows:
If you have been injured in a motor vehicle accident or your minor child has allegedly caused a motor vehicle accident, contact Powell Law at (570) 961-0777. The consultation is FREE and you don’t pay anything unless we win.