If my elderly mother is still driving but shouldn’t be, is there any liability for her adult children should she be in an a accident?

My mother was in car accident 4 years ago, driving low speed into parking lot stanchion. She sued city, who should have marked the defunct parking lot light that used to sit in stanchion. Light no longer implanted in the stanchion, mother didn’t see it as she entered large strip-mall lot. She fractured her neck. She sued city for negligence in marking or removing the stanchion. She has continued to drive (now 83) but developed an extreme drooped head with very little side-to-side movement. If she were to somehow drive and caused an accident, who’s fault? We haven’t taken her keys away yet.

Asked on September 7, 2010 under Accident Law, Massachusetts

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

If it is your car, you would be liable for your mother's driving, the same as you'd be liable for damage, accidents, etc. caused by anyone who used your car with your permission. This might apply even if it's "her" car, but you bought it for her and make payments, etc. You also could be responsible if she is of diminished capacity and you have guardianship or power over  her in some fashion.

However, if she is driving her car and the only connection between you and her is that she's your mother, you would not be responsible for any accidents she causes. American law does not make one adult responsible for the actions of another adult, even if they are related. Of course, if she causes an accident and is sued and has to pay, that could indirectly impact you: use up any potential inheritance; impoverish her, so you have to take her in or  pay for her living expenses; etc.


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