Florida Personal Injury or Wrongful Death Case: When the Legal Driving Age Matters

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According to the Tampa Bay Times, Robert L. Burke let his girlfriend’s 10-year-old son drive his car to a store.  The 10-year-old boy crashed the car into a store on N. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, breaking through a front window.  

It was discovered later that Mr. Burke was also in possession of cocaine at the time.  Obviously, this was a case of poor and impaired judgment, but what is the legal driving age in Florida, and why does it matter in a personal injury or wrongful death case?

Young driver behind the wheel of a car

What are the rules for getting a license?

At the age of 15, a person can apply for a learning permit in Florida.  To obtain that permit, you must have completed Florida’s Traffic Law and Substance Abuse Education (TLSAE). 

This is a program composed of certain requirements that must be met before a driver’s license may be obtained.  Between 16 and 17 years of age, an intermediate license, or provisional license, may be obtained.  Full driving privileges do not become available until 18 years of age has been reached.

What is needed to get a learner’s permit?

To obtain a learner’s permit at 15 years of age in Florida, a child must visit a DMV office with Proof of identity (i.e., U.S. birth certificate); 

Proof of Social Security Number; Proof of a residential address in Florida; Proof of completion for a TLSAE course (or, if you are transferring from out-of-state, your learner’s permit from that state); and the completed Parental Consent for a Driver Application of a Minor form.

After they have submitted the above paperwork, they need to pass 1) vision exam; 2) hearing test; and 3) DMV written test. 

With a newly acquired Florida learner’s permit in their possession, one can drive only during the daytime for the first three months.  After those first three months, they can drive until 10:00 p.m.  

However, they must always have a licensed driver, 21 years or older, sitting with you in the front passenger seat.  Before they can proceed to the next step, obtaining the Florida provisional (intermediate) license, they must show that they have “practiced” driving for 50 hours and 10 of those 50 hours must be driving at night.

Then comes a provisional (intermediate) license. To get that, a driver must: 1) be 16 years of age; 2) have had your learner’s permit for at least one year and not had any “incidents,” along with completing the above-mentioned 50 hours (10 hours at night) of driving practice/experience.

There are a couple of other restrictions that may apply that people should be aware of:

If a driver is 16 years old, they may drive “unsupervised” but only between the hours of 6:00 a.m. and 11:00 p.m. If they are 17 years old, they can drive unsupervised a few more hours, from 5:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. 

Of course, they may drive any time of day if they are driving to and from work, or are supervised by a licensed driver 21 years or older.

When a driver turns 18, their provisional (intermediate) driver’s license will turn into a full-privilege driver’s license.  After that they are just like the rest of us, required to follow the rules, obey the laws, and stay out of trouble.

Why does age matter in a personal injury or wrongful death case in Florida?

If the parent owns the car, we probably don’t even need to get into whether or not the child had a license. The owner is usually responsible.

Because automobiles are considered dangerous instrumentalities like guns, the owner of the car is responsible for the injuries or even wrongful death caused by the negligence of the young person they lent the car to. There are limits to this, but more importantly, the negligence of the person they loan their car to is covered under the owner’s insurance (including parents).

Can parents still be held responsible for injuries when it is not their car?

There is a general rule (exceptions below) that parents are not liable for torts of minors merely because of paternity/maternity. 

But, parents can be legally liable for injuries caused by their minor children “(1) where they entrusts their child with the instrumentality which because of child’s lack of age and judgment may become source of danger to others (2) where the child committing the tort occupies a relationship of servant or agent of parent, (3) where parent knows of child’s wrongdoing and consents to it or sanctions it, and (4) where parent fails to exercise control over child although he/she knows or in exercise of due care should have known injury to another is probable consequence.” Gissen v. Goodwill.

In the Gissen case, because it was not alleged that the child had a habit of the negligent act (slamming doors on people), the case was dismissed. This negligence theoretically extends to automobiles too.

Is there a statute that makes adults responsible for injuries caused by a minor driver?

Yes – Florida Statutes, § 322.09(1)(1) requires that the application of any minor for a driver’s license be signed by a parent or guardian. Importantly, subsection (2) states: “[a]ny negligence or willful misconduct of a minor under the age of 18 years when driving a motor vehicle upon a highway shall be imputed to the person who has signed the application of such minor for a permit or license, which person shall be jointly and severally liable with such minor for any damages caused by such negligence or willful misconduct.”

This statute requires that an adult be responsible for injuries or death caused by that child while driving.

Make sure to talk to an attorney about your claim for injuries under this statute. 

Liability does matter, but collectability of money if you get a judgement and therefore, insurance coverage, becomes a major issue and THAT is a much more complicated question that can require some difficult legal navigation.  

But what about a parent being responsible when they did not sign the license or the minor didn’t even have a license?

There are times when a suit against a parent might be allowed. In Fina v. Hennarichs, the parents were held partially liable when their minor son lent their ATV to a 13-year-old girl who died.  

This theory of a parent’s negligent supervision and how it relates to a car can be found in Probkevitz v. Velda Farms. In that case, there were claims of negligence supervision on the part of a mother, but that claim was unfair because she was asleep when her daughter took the car so the claim against the parent (mother) was not allowed.

But what if it is a very young kid who hurt me?

The rule is that children under 6 are incapable of negligence. There is a presumption that children under 6 are incapable of negligence and immune from liability. Swindell v. Hellkamp, 242 So.2d 708 (Fla. 1970).  However, getting back to the negligent supervision argument above, it may be hard for an adult who was supposed to be watching their child to avoid responsibility altogether.

Can parents/guardians theoretically be held negligent for their own kids?

Guardians may be liable for minor’s negligence in the same 4 circumstances as parents identified in  Gissen v. Goodwill, 80 So.2d 701 (Fla. 1955) above.  Also, see Snow v. Nelson.  

The rules are that the that the guardian may be liable for tort of child (1) where he/she entrusts the child with instrumentality which because of child’s lack of age and judgment may become source of danger to others (2) where child committing tort occupies relationship of servant or agent of parent, (3) where parent knows of child’s wrongdoing and consents to it or sanctions it, and (4) where parent fails to exercise control over child although he knows or in exercise of due care should have known injury to another is probable consequence.” Gissen v. Goodwill, 80 So. 2d 701 (Fla. 1955).”

But what about parents being responsible for their own children?

This comes up! Imagine this: a mom, in a moment of negligence, causes harm to her own child, but when they ask their insurance to pay for the medical bills, their insurance claims that they don’t have the pay the claim because the mother cannot be responsible, citing an old law that gives parents immunity to suit from their children.

Yes, that happened. In Ard v. Ard, The Supreme Court of Florida allowed the case to go forward for an unemancipated minor.  In that case, the court noted the growing trend toward abrogating the immunity and appreciated that liability insurance supplants the need to immunize parents, so they abandoned parental immunity to the extent of available insurance coverage. See also Waite v. Waite, 618 So.2d 1360 (Fla. 1993). 

Get a lawyer who will fight for you

If you or a loved one has been injured or you know someone that has been killed by a person below the legal driving age in Florida, you should call a qualified attorney right away. Call Herman & Wells and talk to an attorney. We are here to help!  Drive safe.