Parental Responsibility for the Child’s Negligent Entrustment of their Car

Posted Saturday, January 06, 2018 by Ed Harper

In the State of Washington, law the owner of a car may incur liability under the family car doctrine for injuries caused by third person to whom a family member has entrusted the car if the car was used for the pleasure and convenience of a family member. Cameron v. Downs, 32 Wn.App. 875, at 880. See prior blog post 10/9/2009: Family Car – Liability Issues, (1982).

In Cameron v. Downs, Steven Downs was driving a van in which Stephen Cameron was a passenger. Cameron was killed due to the negligence of Downs. Cameron’s father brought a wrongful death action for his son’s death. Brenda Downs, the daughter of A. E. Downs, the owner of the vehicle, loaned the vehicle to Steven Downs, her brother. Brenda Downs knew her father had rules prohibiting Steven to drive due to a bad driving history. The question arose whether the parent as owner of the vehicle should be found responsible as the father had forbidden and established rules to prevent Steven Downs from driving.

The question hinged on whether Brenda had the authority and ability to bind her father, creating liability for him when she loaned the vehicle to her brother. The court determined yes, the owner of the car was still responsible. The family car doctrine is grounded in agency, which creates liability for the principal due to the actions of their agent. One cannot escape liability merely because the automobile was being used in a manner forbidden at the time of the accident. Cameron at 880. (Other cites omitted). It follows that an act although forbidden or done in a forbidden manner, may be within the scope of one’s agency. Restatement 2nd of Agency, section 228 (1958).Among the matters of fact to be considered in determining if an agent’s conduct, although not authorized, is nevertheless within the scope of her agency at the time, place and purpose of the act, and whether or not the master had reason to expect that such act would be done. Restatement 2nd of Agency, section 229 (1958).

In addition a trier of fact should determine if despite his admonitions to his family, A. E. Downs had reason to expect that Brenda might loan the van to Steven. Cameron v. Downs, at 881.

The court held that it was a factual question (so the jury would decide) whether it was foreseeable for Brenda to loan the family vehicle to her brother, someone forbidden to drive at the time of the accident. If it was foreseeable, then the father was or could be found responsible for his daughter’s actions even though he had forbidden her from loaning the vehicle to her brother.

This can be very troubling for parents to comprehend that even if they establish rules they may be responsible for their family members negligent actions.

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