Am I subject to liability if I co-sign on an automobile?

Posted Tuesday, January 10, 2012 by Ed Harper

I’m often asked if a co-signer, usually a parent is responsible for damages if my child gets in a crash. Briefly, the answer is: it depends.

More specifically, by being a co-signer, does not provide clear cut liability for any injured person to bring in the parent and collect against their assets. Mere ownership is not enough to be successful. I would need more background to give a more clear response, but a parent’s responsibility would basically rest on two areas:

1.Liability for negligent entrustment – Did the parent exercise any control over the method of operating the vehicle or how it was used? In other words, did they set up some type of limits on the child using the car. And if so, did the child have some history of bad driving which could have alerted and given them reason to take away the privileges. Or did the parent look the other way and continue to give the child the keys to the car, no questions asked? These types of questions would be considered in determining liability.

2.Liability under the Family Car Doctrine – Washington adheres to the Family Car Doctrine, also known as the Family Purpose Doctrine – which holds that a family member can be found liable for the negligence of another merely by ownership of a vehicle and granting permissive use to a minor child or even an adult child. There are certain requirements which support this theory – but have to do with four (4) specific criteria.

See my prior blog posts under Family Car Liability – but here are the four criteria the courts would consider:

  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).

My opinion on co-signing – don’t do it. A gift, with no strings attached is better method of giving to your loved ones, and there will be less entangling alliances as a result which could pull you into court. Call or e mail me any questions you may have. Harper Law PLLC

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