It is not uncommon for parents to be jointly on title to their kid’s car or to allow their children or others to drive their car. Today’s case looks at some of the risks of doing so.
FATHER AND SON CO-OWN TRUCK
John Harris and his father David R. Harris co-owned a Toyota Tacoma. John made the down payment and David paid for insurance and registration and the truck was registered in both of their names. The truck was informally considered John’s, so he was the sole driver.
DRIVER HAS SEIZURE
On November 7, 2011, John suffered a seizure while driving the truck and was unable to brake or steer, and sadly struck and killed two occupants of another vehicle. The accident was his fault.
The seizure was not John’s first. In fact, he had suffered at least two grand mal seizures while on a BART train before the accident. Yet John continued to drive. David considered removing himself from the registration to avoid being accountable for John’s use of the truck but did not follow through.
SUIT FOR NEGLIGENT ENTRUSTMENT OF TACOMA
The decedent’s survivors sued John and David. As to David, the theory of liability was negligent entrustment of the jointly-owned Tacoma to John.
While Vehicle Code section 17151(a) makes an owner of a vehicle who permits another person to use the vehicle, who then causes an accident, liable for up to $15,000/$30,000. Negligent entrustment is a different legal theory.
Negligent entrustment is based on the negligence of the car owner not the driver.
It is negligence to permit a third person to use your vehicle if you know or should know that the driver is likely to create an unreasonable risk of harm for others. Allowing your son who has had several seizures to drive your vehicle is pretty much per se negligence. David knew or should have known his son John was unfit to drive.
The trial court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs against father and son Harris.
David argued he did not have the ability to prevent his son from driving the vehicle.
The First District Court of Appeal was not persuaded writing: “[T]he mere fact of co-ownership does not prevent one co-owner from controlling use of the vehicle by the other co-owner thus, where… one co-owner had power over the use of the vehicle by the other and the negligent co-owner drove with the express or implied consent of such controlling co-owner, who knew of the driver’s incompetence, the basis for cause of action for negligent entrustment has been stated.”
David was negligent allowing his son John to drive. Jury verdict against David (who was determined to be 10% at fault), in the amount of $388,400 was upheld by the Court of Appeal.
TIP OF THE DAY
As a practical tip to co-owners of vehicles, specifically parent-child, consider registering the vehicle in one name only.
Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee and Tahoe City, California, and Reno, Nevada. Jim’s practice areas include: real estate, development, construction, business, HOA’s, contracts, personal injury, accidents, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.portersimon.com. Like us on Facebook. ©2019
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