Florida Vehicle Accident Law: Parental & Guardian Vicarious Liability for Minor

application.jpgThis link contains an overview of permit and license standards in Florida for drivers between the ages of 15 and 17.

Florida Statute §322.09(1)(a) requires an authorized adult (e.g., parent or guardian) to sign and verify the minor’s application. In turn, §322.09(2) makes the adult jointly and severally liable for any damages caused by the negligence or willful misconduct of the minor under the age of 18 years when driving a motor vehicle, any motor vehicle, upon the roadway.

Joint and several liability renders each defendant liable for the entire judgment awarded to plaintiff, regardless of each party’s percentage of fault. Effective April 26, 2006, the Florida Legislature amended §768.81 to provide, subject to limited exceptions — §322.09(2) being one of them — for apportionment of damages in negligence cases according to each party’s percentage of fault, rather than pursuant to the doctrine of joint and several liability. Under this so-called “comparative fault” approach, a tortfeasor’s degree of liability is now generally limited to his or her own degree of fault.

The consequence of §322.09(2) is that the adult is liable for all damages caused by the minor’s negligence or willful misconduct.

Short of not allowing the minor to obtain a permit or license, the best protection an adult can have to protect against being hit with a large personal injury judgment is to maintain bodily injury liability insurance (BI). (Frankly, it is advisable to have BI even where minors are not involved.) How much coverage one should maintain is a matter of personal preference, being mindful that catastrophic injuries can lead to damages in the millions. While it is true that premiums increase with higher coverage limits, the relative rates do come down as the limits increase. For example, the premium for the first $50,000 in BI coverage may be nearly as high as the premium for the next $150,000 in coverage.

Another advantage to having BI coverage is that the insurance company has a duty to defend the insured. In other words, an insurance company defense attorney is included in the cost of the premium.

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