Updated: Aug 24, 2022
The short answer, is yes, a parent can be sued if their child causes a car accident in a vehicle owned by the parents that they allow the child to drive. While the general rule is that you are not responsible for another person’s driving, there is a situation where you could be liable for their negligent conduct. That liability may be found under the theory of negligent entrustment.
What is Negligent Entrustment?
Negligent Entrustment is a theory of liability based on the fact that you allowed someone unfit to drive to operate your vehicle. In Alabama, the elements of the tort of Negligent Entrustment are: (1) an entrustment; (2) to a person incompetent; (3) with knowledge of the incompetence; (4) proximate causation; and (5) damages. Edwards v. Valentine, 926 So. 2d. 315, 320 (Ala. 2005).
An entrustment can be single use, a continued use, or even merely allowing the vehicle to be available for use. You could even be held liable even if you didn’t authorize the use, if you failed to take reasonable precautions to prevent unauthorized use.
What is the incompetence to drive?
A person, or parent, can only be held liable for an accident caused by an entrusted user of the vehicle if that user is both incompetent and the person, or parent, knew of their incompetence a the time of the entrustment. Incompetent merely means lacks the ability to drive safely, or a person who is not reasonably safe when driving. This could mean someone lacking sufficient training, someone with a medical condition making it unsafe to drive, or someone whose prior conduct makes it clear they will not drive safely. Incompetence can be proven by evidence of prior accidents, moving violations, prior driving while intoxicated arrests, or showing that a medical condition prevents them from being able to safely operate the vehicle.