Parental Liability for a Child's Auto Accident

The Previant Law Firm

If my minor child causes injury to another person, can I, as the parent, be held liable?

Yes. As a parent of a minor child, you are responsible for any damages caused by your child’s negligent or malicious operation of a motor vehicle. In addition, a custodial parent is responsible for the willful, malicious or wanton acts of a minor child.

Motor vehicle liability

Under the “sponsorship” statute, anyone under the age of 18 must have a “sponsor” in order to obtain a driver’s license. The sponsor may be parents, guardian, foster parent or employer.

Any negligent or willful misconduct of a minor under the age of 18 is “imputed” to the parents or the person who signed as a sponsor for the minor’s driver’s license. In other words, a claim could be made against the minor child as well as the sponsoring parents. This applies even if the sponsor was not in the vehicle and had no actual control over the minor’s conduct. Sponsors are liable for “any damages caused by such negligent or willful misconduct.”

To protect yourself financially, the best safeguard is to make sure that you have adequate motor vehicle insurance. In addition to the standard automobile coverage, consideration should be given to purchasing an “umbrella” policy. These policies typically cover up to $1,000,000 for a minimal additional premium.

Liability for willful, wanton or malicious acts

A Wisconsin statute imposes liability on parents for the willful, malicious or wanton acts of a child that result in property damage or personal injury. The maximum amount recoverable from any parent or parents is $2,500, plus costs of prosecution and reasonable attorney fees. In addition, damages can also be assessed against the child if the damages exceed $2,500. The liability under this statute does not apply to negligent acts but rather to acts that are “willful” or intentional.