Accident Liability Under Colorado’s Family Car Doctrine

Accident Liability Under Colorado’s

Many parents may not be aware of a dusty law on Colorado’s books. Parents allowing their children to drive may be deemed liable for the results of their auto accidents. Variations of this law exist on a state-by-state basis. Traditional common law assigned parental liability based on who signed the child’s license application. Other states employ a “family purpose” law or will handle this issue under negligence by way of entrustment. Colorado’s statutes refer to this as the Family Car Doctrine. Colorado does have negligent entrustment laws; however, to prove this against the parent of a minor is more difficult. The parents would have to be aware that the child’s driving was an unreasonable risk to the safety of themselves or others. Examples of such would be that they were aware that the child was a very poor driver, or was intoxicated etc.

Lee vs Degler

An auto accident occurred involving George Lee and Earl Degler in Loveland, CO. Mr. Degler was determined to be at-fault for the accident, but he died from unrelated causes prior to resolving the accident. Mr. Lee proceeded with action against Mr. Degler’s widow by employing the family car doctrine to make her liable for her deceased husband’s negligence. Mrs. Degler was listed on the vehicle’s title as a co-owner with her husband at the time. Mrs. Degler contended that her husband was the sole wage earner and purchaser of the vehicle; in fact, she was not even licensed to drive.

The court considered Hutchins v Haffner in Colorado where the court held the husband liable for his wife’s negligence when driving the family car. This was based on “that the wife was acting as an agent for the husband in fulfillment of purposes of which the car was intended”. Additionally, in Schledewitz v Consumers Oil, the father was found liable for his son’s negligent driving. In another case, a divorced mother was found liable for the negligence of her son. The common denominator upon reviewing cases was that the family car doctrine only was applicable in citing the head of household. Ultimately Mrs. Degler was not deemed liable, as the court stated that if the defendant is not head of household, then there would not be a liability. Further, you cannot assign liability solely on being listed as a co-owner on the vehicle title.

Contact a Colorado Personal Injury Attorney

Have you or a family member been severely injured based on the reckless or negligent driving of another party? You may be entitled to significant financial compensation to account for injuries, time off work, pain and suffering and other damages. At The Law Firm of Jeremy Rosenthal, they have been fighting to defend Colorado injury victims for many years. For a free consultation to review your case contact the office today.

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