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Can You Be Held Liable If Your Elderly Parent Has A Car Accident?

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In many instances, an adult is not liable if their elderly parents cause harm while on the road as long as that individual has all mental faculties in place and can be considered capable enough to drive by law. But, there are exceptions.

The only times you might be considered liable is…

  • if you own the car involved in the accident
  • if you co-own the car
  • if you loaned the car to a person whom you know is unfit to drive

You may not have known that if you loan your car to an elderly friend or relative, but they’re not capable of driving safely – and you are aware of that – well, you may be getting yourself into trouble! If the elderly driver is unfit and causes an accident while on the road because they are incompetent then it’s possible that either party could be liable for negligent entrustment.

Basically, this means you may be liable.

As our father grew older, my sister and I would have discussions with our father about his driving. We thought that he should stop driving and he would disagree.

As we continued our “discussions” with him on this issue – we worried that we might be liable if he got into a car accident. We found out that generally, the answer is “NO” as long as we did not loan him our car or co-owned the car. Thankfully, he was a car owner so we didn’t have to worry about him using one of ours.

According to a blog article written by the law firm of Shollenberger, Januzzi and Wolfe, LLC,

In order for a car accident plaintiff to hold an adult child responsible for an accident caused by an elderly parent, it would have to be shown that there is some recognized legal duty the adult child had to prevent the parent from causing harm to others, either in general or specifically while driving. Such legal duty is generally not currently recognized, though adult children—particularly those who have power of attorney—should consider that they have a moral obligation to do what they can to prevent an aging parent from getting behind the wheel when it becomes dangerous for them to do so. In some states, physicians do have a duty to report elderly drivers they feel should not be getting behind the wheel.

Law Firm Of Shollenberger, Januzzi and Wolfe, LLC

Now of course, every municipality will have it’s own specific set of laws concerning this issue so I would strongly recommend that you or a family member contact an elder law attorney in your area to get the exact answer about liability issues concerning an elderly driver and driving accidents.

What If You Have Power Of Attorney Over Your Parent?

Some adult children and/or caregivers have obtained a power of attorney over their senior loved one (which is often a very good thing to do).

Essentially, when you have power of attorney over an aging parent, you are granted legal permission to make decisions on behalf of your parent that they may not be able to make for themselves.

So, if you do have this legal document, are you then liable if your senior parent causes a car accident?

Again, the answer is “NO” and the reasons that you might be considered liable are the 3 that I mentioned earlier.

At What Age Should Seniors Stop Driving?

Technically and legally, there is no set age when you should stop driving. The law basically says that specific “medical conditions” are the only reason(s) that are acknowledged which would keep you from driving a vehicle.

It’s more or less true (depending on where you live), that you can keep driving until the day you die if your health is good enough for that! I know seniors who are in their 90’s who are still driving around town for errands, appointments, etc.!

The key question is, SHOULD they still be driving? Are they a responsible driver? Is their vision good and do they have any physical or cognitive impairments that may interfere with them being a safe driver?

The answers to these questions should be answered with the help of a physician and also an Occupational Therapist certified in driving instruction or a Driving Specialist.

Do Elderly Drivers Cause More Accidents?

In 2018, almost 7,700 older adults (aged 65+) were killed in traffic crashes, and more than 250,000 were treated in emergency departments for crash injuries.2 This means that each day, more than 20 older adults are killed and almost 700 are injured in crashes.

CDC.gov

But do elderly drivers actually cause more accidents on the road? – The CDC continues to report that basically, yes, older drivers 75 years and older do have a higher rate of crash death rates than middle aged drivers.

How Do You Tell Your Parents They Can’t Drive Anymore?

This is an emotional and difficult conversation to have with anyone, but it’s especially challenging when the person that has been driving for decades suddenly realizes that their reactions are slower than they used to be. When this happens, it’s important to talk about what options you both have in the near future.

It’s never easy to tell your parents they can’t drive anymore. The idea of telling them is terrifying, but it doesn’t have to be.

Tips On How To Stop Your Elderly Loved One From Driving

Many adult children and caregivers have to deal with this very difficult issue and I have been there with my own father so I can relate!

There are basically 5 tips that may help you…

  • Plan out your approach towards giving up their car.
  • Speak with respect.
  • Start with questions about why they want to continue driving.
  • Listen to their concerns.
  • Don’t patronize.
  • Investigate viable options to replace driving.

You can read more about implementing these tips here.

*Note: we are not attorneys and this should not be construed as legal advice. You should consult with an attorney to get answers that are specific to your own situation.

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