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Can a parent or guardian be held liable for a child’s motor vehicle negligence? P.1

Last time, we looked briefly at New Jersey’s graduated licensing process for new drivers and the importance of this process for ensuring safe driving habits among young motorists. As we mentioned, it is important for those who have been involved in a motor vehicle accident with a younger driver to work with an experienced advocate to seek appropriate compensation, through insurance claims and, if necessary, through the court system.

When a teen driving accident results in catastrophic injuries which exceed the compensation available through insurance claims, seeking additional compensation through the court system is particularly important. In cases involving teen drivers, though, insolvency is likely to be an issue. Depending on the circumstances of the case, it may be possible to pursue a teen driver’s parents or guardians for damages.

New Jersey courts have recognized that parents may be liable for the motor vehicle accidents of their children when the child acted as the parent’s agent or employee. This certainly includes situations where the child is using a company vehicle or family vehicle in connection with a family business, as well as other situations where the parent-owner has created some sort of agency relationship with the child.

Determining exactly when an agency relationship exists is not always an easy matter. New Jersey courts have recognized that a child may, in some situations, be found to be acting as an agent of a parent when the child used a family vehicle owned by one or both of the parents for a “family purpose.” Simply providing a vehicle to a child to use, however, doesn’t necessarily trigger liability for the parent in the event of an accident.

We’ll continue looking at this issue in our next post.

Sources:

Haggerty v. Cedeno, 279 N.J.Super. 607, Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division (1995).

Willett v. Ifrah, 298 N.J.Super. 218, Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division (1997). 

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