Arizona Court Rules Parents are Liable for Their Children's Auto Accidents

The Arizona Supreme Court has ruled that parents of minors are on the hook financially for auto accidents that occur, even when the children are violating their parents’ instructions.

The high court’s decision in Amy Young v. Kenneth L. Beck and Barbara Beck follows one in 2010 by the mid-level Court of Appeals. That court held that the parents of a 17-year-old Jason Beck were liable for an accident that caused serious injuries to another driver,  Amy Young.

The accident occurred after Beck drove friends around, although his parents had told him after a previous accident that he could only drive to school, church or work.

The parents, Kenneth and  Barbara, argued that they shouldn't’t be held liable when their son drove the family car in violation of restrictions they imposed.

The court of appeals said the family purpose doctrine should not be abolished. The doctrine “subjects the owner of a [vehicle] to vicarious liability when the owner provides an automobile for the general use by a family member,” court documents explain. “The family purpose doctrine imputes liability not because of the head of the family’s independent fault or breach of a legal duty, but because of the ‘agency relationship that is deemed to exist between the head of the household and the driver of the family car.’”

Moreover the high court said the doctrine does not require that a parent give permission for every possible route taken or deviation made by a family member while operating the vehicle. Excusing the parents from liability because they did not give their son permission to drive the car recreationally would enable parents to “immunize” themselves from liability by imposing unrealistic or unenforced limitations on their child’s use of the vehicle, the court said.

The Supreme Court of Arizona affirmed the ruling of the Court of Appeals from the Superior Court in Maricopa County, saying “although policy arguments can be made for and against the [family purpose] doctrine, it is firmly entrenched in our common law and has been repeatedly applied by Arizona courts.”

If you have been injured as a result of an automobile accident, Sierra Vista Attorney Perry Hicks can help. Call our office today for a free consultation.