Unlicensed 16 year old totaled friend's car and injured passengers...

by Pete
(CA)

My 16 year old son snuck out of the house 2 nights ago and met up with an 18 year old friend and her friend's house. I had forbidden my son from seeing this particular friend because she had proven not to be a good influence on him before.

The friend let him drive the car (supposedly she asked him if he wanted to drive), knowing that he has no license or permit and knowing he is on probation for joyriding a few months back, which she now claims she did not know. However, she knows my son from school and text messages prove she knows that he is on probation and not allowed to drive a car.

Anyhow, my son drove with her and 2 other girls in the car and crashed the car. The car is totaled. They were all in shock and in panic, and the friend yelled at my son to run away. He did and came back home (snuck back in through window) and a little while later the police come to my house and told me what happened.

I suppose the girls must have realized it's a bad idea to lie about who drove and told the officers that my son was driving. The officers were very understanding of the situation, that everyone was in shock, and why my son ran away. They told my son that they came to get his statement and keep the part of him running away from the scene out of the report to not add more trouble to the situation.

The next day I found out that the owner of the car had to get 15 stitches and one of the other girls might have a broken knee cap. The owner of the car is now telling my son she didn't know he didn't have a license and she never gave him permission to drive.

I understand she is trying to protect herself, but her dad is a lawyer and she says he is going to sue my son and me for $70,000 if my son does not make a statement and say that she did not give him permission to drive.

If he makes that statement and says that she did not give him permission to drive, since he is a minor, the insurance would pay for everything and neither she and her family nor he and our family would be liable.

I did a bit of research on the internet and based on that believe that because she entrusted an unlicensed teenager to drive her car, negligent entrustment applies and she or the original insurance holder would be liable for the accident and the damages. At this point I am trying to figure out the best course of action.

I know this will probably get my son out of the probation program he is on and possibly into a camp or something of that sort. It's a horrible thought for me since my son has mental health issues that are at the root of his poor decision making.

At this point I am trying to get advice on if my son or I are financially liable, and if the owner of the car / her family / the insurance company can successfully sue us for all the costs? Also, should my son make the suggested statement? Thank you very much in advance for any information you can give!

Visitor Question:
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ANSWER for "Unlicensed 16 year old totaled friend's car and injured passengers...":

Pete (CA):

When a person loans his or her car to a person who they know, or should know is not permitted to drive, or is on probation for driving a motor vehicle when his or her license was suspended, the person loaning the car may become vicariously liable for injuries the driver may cause to third parties.

Commonly known as "negligent entrustment", in this case the facts seem to show the friend knew your son was barred from driving. The friend ignored the bar and permitted your son to drive. As a result, once your son injured others in the car accident, the friend became vicariously liable for the injuries your son caused to others.

Read California’s statute addressing vicarious liability here.

Your son should NOT make a false statement. Doing so is morally and legally inappropriate. If the attorney persists in his or her demand to commit your son to making a false statement, your son should seek the advice of legal counsel.

Finally, unfortunately you may be concurrently liable, as parents can be held liable for the actions or omissions of their minor child, especially when the child causes property damage or injuries to one or more third parties. It would be in your best interest to consult with a local attorney.

The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from an attorney licensed in your state. Find a local attorney to give you a free case review here, or call (888) 647-2490.

Best of luck,

Judge Calisi

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