Sanford v. Rasnick – Vicarious Liability for Parents of Teen Drivers

Teenagers, both due to inexperience and a propensity for impulsivity, are at high risk of involvement in a car accident.drivefastsaab

Most teen drivers are on their parents’ auto insurance plan, and many drive vehicles owned by their parents. This puts parents in a situation where they can be held both directly and vicariously liable.

As the owner of a vehicle, one can be held vicariously liable for injury caused by use of that vehicle, which is deemed a dangerous instrumentality. Parents could also be deemed vicariously liable for the actions of their teens in some situation. Additionally, a parent may be found directly liable for negligent entrustment of that vehicle.

That’s why it’s so important for parents to speak with their teens at length about their responsibilities, expectations and potential consequences.

In the recent case of Sanford v. Rasnick, a motorcyclist was injured when a teenager driving her father’s vehicle allegedly ran a stop sign and struck plaintiff’s motorcycle.

According to court records from the California Court of Appeal, First Appellate District, Division Two, plaintiff sued both the teen driver and driver’s father, who owned the vehicle.

Defendants reportedly made an auto accident settlement offer for $130,000. However, that offer lapsed the car accident lawsuit went to trial. At trial, jurors awarded plaintiff less than $130,000.

Trial court would later determine the offer, made per California Civil Procedure section 998, was still valid, however ruled that defendants should be allowed to collect certain fees for court expenses/ expert witness costs. The court entered a separate order taxing a portion of plaintiff’s award.

A section 998 offer in that state offers incentives to those who accept the offer prior to trial so that the cost/ time of a trial can be avoided.

Jurors did award plaintiff $144,000 in damages, but deemed him 20 percent at-fault, which reduced his damages to $115,000. On top of that, defendants sought recover of $28,000 in expert witness costs, which would have been avoided had the case not gone to trial. Trial court granted that request.

Plaintiff appealed both orders, arguing defendant should not be entitled to court expenses and that his award should not be taxed.

The appellate court agreed and reversed, remanding for resolution of the damage award issue.

The court noted that the whole point of a “998 offer” is to shift some of the costs that arise post-offer if one party refuses to settle. That would have meant that plaintiff would incur certain sanctions for refusing to settle for an offer that is reasonable. However in this case, the court ruled the offer was not valid because:

  • It doesn’t apportion damages between the two defendants (teen and her father);
  • It contains improper “settlement agreement” language.

For this reason, plaintiff should not have had his award taxed and defendant was not entitled to an offset for certain trial-related costs.

Although this case deals with specifics of California case law, it’s relevant for motorists here in Charlotte because the problem of teen driving accidents is prevalent. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates approximately 5,900 teens between the ages of 15 and 20 are involved in fatal crashes each year. They account for about 6 percent of the drivers on the road, and yet account for a disproportionate number of traffic accidents and crash-related injuries.

Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

Sanford v. Rasnick, April 25, 2016, Charlotte Car Accident Lawsuit

More Blog Entries:

Johnson v. Montgomery – Club Allowing Workers to Drink Not Liable for DUI Crash, April 28, 2016, Charlotte Car Accident Lawyer Blog

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