Dear Dale: If I let my 20-year-old daughter take a car to college for off-campus use, could I be at risk of losing my home if she causes an accident that injures the other driver? Also, would it make any difference if my daughter was intoxicated?
Answer: What you're asking is whether you can be held liable for the actions of your adult daughter if she causes an injury accident. As a personal injury attorney, I've filed claims against parents of children causing accidents in certain situations. The claim is called "negligent entrustment," which means that the owner of the car was negligent for letting an inexperienced or dangerous driver use his or her vehicle.
To prove that claim the injured party must show that the owner of the car knew or should have known because of the circumstances that the driver was too inexperienced or incompetent to have been trusted with the vehicle. The allegation is that the driver and the vehicle's owner are responsible for the injuries caused in the accident.
As in any negligence case, the injured party must show that the accident was foreseeable given the circumstances. Generally, if the accident was foreseeable, the person had a duty not to behave in a way that could cause the accident.
When a very young driver causes an accident, it's reasonable to explore the possibility that the driver's inexperience played a role. And if that's the case, it's also reasonable to examine whether the vehicle's owner should have trusted the driver behind the wheel.
Our office also has brought negligent entrustment claims when a vehicle is loaned to someone with a history of driving under the influence or with ongoing drug and alcohol problems. The idea is that it's foreseeable that there's a known risk that such people would get loaded and cause an accident, given their track record.
Usually, it's only the information-gathering process that accompanies any lawsuit that produces answers to these fact-specific situations. And, usually, they're tough claims to prove.
So, where does that leave you and your daughter? If you know your daughter is an extremely inexperienced driver, has a string of drunk-driving convictions, or has caused a number of accidents, you may be on the hook if she gets into an accident.
As a practical matter, most lawyers who represent car accident victims have no interest in seeking recovery from personal assets such as someone's home. Your auto insurance policy should cover you for any accident your daughter should cause, and your insurance company should provide you with a legal defense if you're sued. If you buy a policy that provides too little liability coverage, then your personal assets are at risk.
I'd suggest that if you're going to provide a car for your daughter, make sure you have a policy that provides at least $100,000 per person, $300,000 per accident of liability coverage. In fact, that's the minimum policy I'd recommend for most people. That would protect you from any personal exposure in most situations.
Dale Emch practices law at the Charles E. Boyk Law Offices, LLC, in Toledo. In his column, he will discuss general legal principles and answer readers' questions. Neither Mr. Emch nor The Blade present or intend his column to be taken as legal advice. Readers seeking legal advice should consult with an attorney. Readers should send their questions to Mr. Emch at firstname.lastname@example.org or Dale Emch, 405 Madison Ave., Suite 1200, Toledo, OH 43604. His blog is at www.toledocaraccidentlawyerblog.com