THE MCMILLIAN LAW FIRM - REPRESENTING ACCIDENT AND INJURY VICTIMS IN CHARLESTON, SC AND SUMMERVILLE, SC
The pressure placed on parents go far beyond the ability to provide food, shelter, and an education for their children. From the moment you or someone you love becomes a parent, the societal pressure of being a "good parent" is sometimes measured by the behavior and actions of the children. As children begin to mature and become teenagers, the inevitably learn to drive and get a driver's license. The nuance of driving as a young person along with the unavoidable accidents that come as a part of youthful ignorance can place parents into legal jeopardy.
The legal responsibility of parents for the injuries and damages caused by a minor children can have dire legal consequences, even in situations where the parents did proverbially "do anything." The state of the law in South Carolina will expose parents to financial liability for the negligent acts of their children, the overriding question is to what extent the parents will be exposed.
WHEN CAN PARENTS BE LIABLE FOR A CAR ACCIDENT CAUSED BY THEIR MINOR CHILD
South Carolina is one of several states that holds parents responsible for the injuries and property damage caused by their minor children, specifically in car accidents. Though parental liability for the negligence of their minor children can extend to other legal issues, this issue is most commonly encountered as a result of a minor operating a car. The law, of course, defines a minor as any individual under the age of 18. South Carolina allows recovery for damages in any civil lawsuit against the parents or guardians if (1) the minor lives with the parents or guardian, and (2) the actions of the minor were done willfully or maliciously.
Whoever signs a minor's driver's license application becomes liable if the minor drives negligently, if there is not enough auto insurance to cover the damage. Parental responsibility does not completely absolve the minor; in most circumstances, the law limits parental liability to $5,000. Also, although the limit of parental responsibility is $5,000, there is no limit for the minor. Any excess amount awarded to the injured party is to be paid by the minor.
WHEN PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE NEGLIGENCE OF A MINOR CHILD CAN EXCEED $5000.00
A parent of course cannot create a full proof method of preventing liability, but the actions of a parent can remove the $5,000 liability limit. If the behavior of the parents create conditions that could foreseeably lead to the injuries and damages your minor child causes, then the parent(s) can be held liable for any damages that exceed $5,000. The main legal theory under which such liability arises is called the "family purpose doctrine." The family purpose doctrine provides that any parent who allows a minor child to use the family car without restriction may be liable for more than the $5,000 general limit on damages. The South Carolina Supreme Court went on to define and discuss the application of the family purpose doctrine in the case of Thompson v. Michael, 443 S.E. 2d 853 (1993):
Under the family purpose doctrine, the head of a family who owns, furnishes, and maintains a vehicle for the general use and convenience of his family is liable for the negligence of a family member having general authority to operate the vehicle for such a purpose. Lucht v. Youngblood, 266 S.C. 127, 221 S.E. 2d 854(1976); Lollar v. Dewitt, 255 S.C. 452, 179 S.E. 2d 652 (1971). This doctrine derives from agency law and will impose liability on a parent when a child is acting as his agent. Norwood v. Coley, 235 S.C. 314, 111 S.E. 2d 550 (1959). Even if the parent owns the car, it must be determined whether the parent provided the car for the general use and convenience of the family. If the car was not provided for the general use and convenience of the family, there is no relationship of principal and agent at the time of the wreck to impose liability on the parent.
WHAT ARE THE PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS OF THE FAMILY PURPOSE DOCTRINE?
One last consideration of course to remember as it concerns the family purpose doctrine is the availability of insurance proceeds. The vast majority of minors who operate vehicles are (1) a named driver on the parent's insurance policy (2) are operating a car owned by a parent, or (3) both of these. Therefore, in any car accident where the minor driver is found at fault and is responsible for injuries and damages, the parent and the minor will avoid personal liability if the amount of injuries and damages fall below the limits of the insurance. Of course, if the amount of damages exceed the amount of available insurance, then the legal principles of the family purpose doctrine will more than likely kick in and the parents and the minor will be subject to personal liability for any damages exceeding the policy limits. The most common, yet tragic, circumstance where this is encountered is in car accidents involving wrongful death where a minor was the negligent driver leading to the loss of life.
THE MCMILLIAN LAW FIRM - DEDICATED TO SERVING CAR ACCIDENT AND INJURY VICTIMS IN CHARLESTON, SC AND SUMMERVILLE, SC
As a Car Accident and Personal Injury lawyer in my solo practice, I will take all necessary steps to protect your rights and earn just compensation for you as a result of your accident. Through my efforts, I can bring about much needed financial relief to a victim who may be suffering from serious injuries and permanent disability. Being a small firm allows you to have direct access to your lawyer during this entire process, with open lines of communication as we work together towards a viable solution to your specific case.
Being an experienced personal injury attorney, I have experience dealing with insurance companies. I also know where the courthouse is and will not be afraid to call the insurance company to the mat in front of a judge and jury if necessary.
If you or a loved one has been injured in a car accident or due to the negligent or reckless acts of another in Charleston, Summerville, Mount Pleasant, James Island, West Ashley, Goose Creek, Moncks Corner, North Charleston, or any of the other fine communities of the Low Country, and need to meet with an experienced personal injury lawyer, please contact me to set up your free case evaluation today. Let me help prevent you from being taken advantage of by the insurance company. I am serious and I am here for you! Contact The McMillian Law Firm today @ 843-900-1306