Thursday, December 2, 2010


If you ask the Arizona Court of Appeals, parents may be liable for harm caused when their kid crashes the family car, even when the kid drives without permission.  The reasoning lies in the case of Young v. Beck.  That case is currently on review at the AZ Supreme Court.  Therefore, parents with driving children may want to watch this case carefully. 

The facts giving rise to Young v. Beck are typical of many households with teenagers.   Jason Beck, 17, was joy riding with his friends in a car provided by his parents.  On his way home, Jason crashed into Young who received serious injuries. However, the rub here is that the Becks told Jason that he could no longer have friends in the car because of a previous accident. He was only to drive the car to school, church, or work. Therefore, Jason did not have permission to joy ride as he did on the day of the accident.   

So, why are his parents liable?  Arizona follows what’s called “The Family Purpose Doctrine.”  The Family Purpose Doctrine simply says that a parent who “furnishes an automobile for the pleasure and convenience of the members of his[/her] family makes the use of the machine . . . [the parents'] affair or business, and that any member of the family driving the machine with the [parents’] consent, either express or implied, is the [parents’] agent.” See, Benton v. Regeser.  In other words, if you let your kid drive the family car, you are responsible if the kid crashes the car.

In Young v. Beck, the Becks argued at trial that Jason did not have express permission to use the car for driving his friends. Therefore, the Becks argued they should not be liable under the Family Purpose Doctrine. The Court, however, reasoned that the Becks gave Jason implied consent to drive the car for family purposes because Jason had permission to drive the car for many other purposes.

So, what’s the moral of the story? If you have an accident prone child, take away the car keys and deny him or her the right to drive your car. Therefore, when he or she crashes the car and subjects you to liability, you’ll have an excuse at Court why your disobedient child should be the only person responsible for the damage. But, that’s easier said than done.  Your other choice is to carry a huge insurance policy. 

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