A parent generally is not legally responsible for auto accidents caused by his or her child’s driving. If, however, the child has a record of repeated traffic violations, or has shown a tendency to drive recklessly or incompetently, the parent should take extra precautions to ensure that the child is not given the opportunity to injure others. Failing to do so may render the parent liable for negligent supervision or negligent entrustment.
Imagine an accident in which a 17-year-old boy, driving with his parents’ permission a car owned by, and registered to, his parents, runs a red light while speeding and hits your car, seriously injuring you. Prior to the accident, his parents knew that he had received two citations for speeding and one for failing to stop at a red light. They had warned their son on multiple occasions that he was driving too aggressively.
In addition to a claim against the driver for negligence, you may have a viable cause of action against his parents for both negligent supervision and negligent entrustment.
A. Negligent supervision.
In Cooke v. Lopez, 57 Mass. App. Ct. 703 (2003), the Court listed the elements of a negligent supervision claim:
Parents have a duty to exercise reasonable care to prevent their minor children from intentionally or negligently inflicting harm on others…. This duty arises “when the parent knows or should know of the child’s propensity for the type of harmful conduct complained of, and has an opportunity to take reasonable corrective measures.”…
To prove a claim of negligent supervision, the plaintiff must show the parent’s awareness of “a dangerous tendency”; “a propensity for reckless or vicious behavior”; or a “propensity for a particular type of harmful conduct” on the part of the child, as well as a lack of appropriate action on the part of the parent. …
The parents’ knowledge that their son had been cited not just once but three times for dangerous driving, and of other prior incidents of overly aggressive driving, may or may not be sufficient to establish their awareness of “a dangerous tendency,” “a propensity for reckless or vicious behavior,” or a “propensity for a particular type of harmful conduct” on the part of the [driver].” In numerous cases, courts have held that a parent’s awareness of one, two or even “several” prior incidents is not enough to render them liable for negligent supervision.
Success on the negligent supervision claim will probably depend on whether the jury finds that a reasonable parent, armed with the same knowledge, would have supervised the driver more closely.
B. Negligent entrustment.
In order to prove a claim for negligent entrustment,
the plaintiff must establish that (1) the defendant entrusted a vehicle to an incompetent or unfit person whose incompetence or unfitness was the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries; (2) the persons who owned and controlled the vehicle gave specific or general permission to the operator to drive the [vehicle]; and (3) the defendant had actual knowledge of the incompetence or unfitness of the operator to drive the vehicle…. Actual knowledge by the entrustor of the unfitness of the entrustee at the time permission was granted is a critical element….
Picard v. Thomas, 60 Mass. App. Ct. 362, 369 (2004). Evidence that the driver entrusted with the vehicle was known to be inexperienced is not enough. Proof that the person entrusting the vehicle knew the driver was unfit is required.
In cases where negligent entrustment has been found, the person entrusting the vehicle was aware that the driver had a long history of multiple traffic infractions/accidents. The success of your negligent entrustment claim would depend on a jury concluding that reasonable parents, aware that their son had been cited for three moving violation and tended to drive too aggressively, would not have entrusted their vehicle to him.