Family Car - Liability issues

Posted Tuesday, October 06, 2009 by Ed Harper

Many parents ask me this question: “Am I responsible for any injuries which result from my son or daughter crashing the family car?

This is a common question and often causes many gray hairs for parents. The answer is “yes” for most of the collisions which occur when the son or daughter is driving here in Washington. According to Washington Pattern Jury Instruction 72.05: A person who maintains or provides a motor vehicle for the use of a member of his or her family is responsible for the acts of that individual in the operation of that motor vehicle.

More specifically, parents are responsible for the actions of their family member when the following elements are satisfied:

  1. The car is owned, provided or maintained by the parent;
  2. For the customary conveyance of family members and other family business;
  3. And at the time of the accident the car is being driven by a member of the family for whom the car is maintained, and,
  4. With the express or implied consent of the parent.
    Cameron v. Downs, 32 Wn.App. 875, 650 P.2d 260 (1962)

As you may imagine, each of these elements has been analyzed by attorneys and judges through the years. Washington is one of a handful of jurisdictions which allow parents to be held responsible through this legal principle. This legal principle is analogous to the agency – principal relationship, such as an employee – employee relationship. Thus, one who is in the superior position (principal or parent) is found to be liable when the (agent or child) causes injuries.

The latin term is “respondeat superior” or “let the master answer”.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding the family car doctrine or other issues involving personal injury, please contact Harper Law, PLLC and we’ll be happy to provide you with answers.

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Although our office does not handle all types of cases, we hope you will contact us regarding any legal issues you may encounter. We will answer your questions, or refer you to another quality and trustworthy attorney if we are unable to assist you.

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Harper Law PLLC
826 6th Street South, Suite 101, Kirkland, WA 98033-6740 US
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Phone: 425.284.3333
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