The aftermath of a motor vehicle accident can be legally complex. Often times, a person other than the driver to the striking vehicle, may be additionally responsible for the damages caused by a motor vehicle collision. Under Illinois law, two common scenarios in which a person or entity may be found legally responsible for damages caused by a negligent driver arise in (1) the parent-child relationship, and (2) the employer-employee relationship. Whether a parent or an employer is legally responsible for the at-fault driver will a careful analysis of the facts surrounding the accident and the relationships of the parties.
If a child gets into an accident while driving his or her parents’ car, the injured plaintiff may be able to sue the parents in certain, but not all, situations. Parents are not liable for the injuries caused by their children merely because their child causes an accident. In Illinois, parents may be held liable under an “agency” theory for their child’s negligent driving if the child was engaged in running an errand for or doing the parents’ business at the time of the accident. Stellmach v. Olson, 242 Ill.App.3d 61, 64 (2nd Dist. 1993). However, the Stellmach Court explained that a parent is not liable for damages caused by a child who drove the parent’s car for the child’s own purposes, even if the parent consented to that use. Stellmach, 242 Ill.App.3d at 65. If, instead, the child was using the car to run a family errand, then the parent will be liable. Stellmach, 242 Ill.App.3d at 64. The question of whether an action is a family errand will be a question of fact for the jury to consider during the trial. Id.