During my time as a personal injury attorney in Florida, I occasionally come across the question of parental immunity for a child’s personal injuries.
This comes up in a few different scenarios. Some times it presents itself in the form of what I call “friendly suits.” It is a term that insurance defense attorneys hate. It is when a person is negligent and injures a person they care about. “Don’t worry Johnny, I have insurance that will pay you for all the harm I have caused”, is a common sentence in those situations. But wait, the insurance defense attorney then claims that the parents’ insurance gets the benefit of parental immunity, meaning that the child cannot sue the parent. Ever. Remember that the injured person does not sue the insurance, just the person, then insurance pays for the loss. Likewise, insurance companies will try to require the benefit of that immunity.
The Supreme Court of Florida addressed the growing trend toward abrogating (getting rid of) the immunity. See Ard v. Ard, 414 So.2d 1066 (Fla. 1982). The Court noted an appreciation that liability insurance supplants the need to immunize parents which lead to a result that immunity is waived to the extent of available insurance coverage. Thirty two (32) states have abrogated the inter-spouse immunity as well. Waite v. Waite, 618 So.2d 1360 (Fla. 1993).
So what about the notion that parents are liable for negligent acts and injuries caused by their children? The rule is that parents are not automatically legally liable for all injuries caused by ordinary negligence of their children. There are exceptions, however, like driving cars and other “dangerous instrumentalities” like ATVs.
Each case is different and will be governed by its own circumstances, so it is important that if you are injured by the negligence of another person you call a qualified personal injury attorney, who knows the legal nuances of Florida law as soon as possible.