Does Legal Driving Age Affect Personal Injury or Wrongful Death Cases in Florida?

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No, it isn’t 10 years old, as a local 42-year-old man found out near St. Petersburg. According to the Tampa Bay Times, Robert L. Burke let his girlfriend’s 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?

What Are the Rules for Legally Obtaining a Driver License in Florida?

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 form; “Parental Consent for a Driver Application of a Minor,” Form HSMV 71142.

After they have submit the above paperwork, they need to pass:

  1. A vision exam
  2. A hearing test
  3. And the DMV’s 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,”
  3. Complete 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.

When Does Driving Age Impact Personal Injury or Wrongful Death Cases in Florida?

Underaged driver causes car accident in Pinellas

The Owner of the Car is Usually Held Responsible (But Not Always)

If the parent of an underaged driver owns the car, then a personal injury lawyer probably won’t need to determine if the child had a driver’s license. The owner typically assumes responsibility if there was a resulting car accident and injuries.

Keep in mind that in Florida, a car is legally considered to be a dangerous instrument (not unlike a gun). That is why the court would hold the owner of the car 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).

If the Underaged Driver isn’t in the Parent’s Car, Will Their Parents be Held Responsible in the Event of an Accident?

There is a general rule (exceptions below) that parents are not liable for torts (otherwise known as personal injury) of minors merely because of paternity/maternity. But, parents can be legally liable for injuries caused by their minor children if the following conditions are met:

“(1) where he/she 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, 80 So.2d 701 (Fla. 1955).

In the Gissen case, evidence was not provided showing that the child had a habit of performing negligent acts (such as slamming doors on people or a history of disciplinary reprimands), the case was dismissed. This negligence theoretically extends to automobiles too.

 Is there a Statute Making an Adult Responsible for Injuries Caused by Minor Drivers?

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 a personal injury 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.

Is the Parent Responsible if They Never Signed the License or the Minor was Unlicensed? 

There are times when 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. Fina v. Hennarichs, 19 So.3d 1081 (Fla. 4th DCA 2009).

This theory of a parent’s negligent supervision and how it relates to a car can be found in Probkevitz v. Velda Farms, 22 So.3d 609 (Fla. 3dDCA 2009). In that case, there were claims of negligent supervision on the part of a mother. Those claims were deemed unfair because she was asleep when her daughter took the car so they were eventually not allowed.

What Happens if You were Hurt by a Very Young Driver?

The rule in Florida is that children under the age of 6 are incapable of negligence. To further clarify, this means that children under the age of 6 are legally 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 all together.

Can a Legal Guardian be Held Responsible in this Type of Personal Injury Case?

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, 450 So.2d 269 (Fla. 3rd DCA 1984).

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).”

What About Parents Being Responsible to 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 provider states that they don’t have to pay the claim because the mother cannot be responsible, citing an old law that gives parents immunity to suit from their children.

Yes that that happened.

In Ard v. Ard, The Supreme Court of Florida allowed the case to go forward for an unemancipated minor. Ard v. Ard, 414 So.2d 1066 (Fla. 1982). In that case, the court noted the growing trend toward doing away with immunity rulings in similar cases.  Why? The liability insurance replaces 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).

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 (Clifford Wells is a board certified personal injury attorney by the way). Call Herman & Wells and talk to a real attorney. We are here to help! Drive safe.