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When Is a Parent or Guardian Liable for a Child’s Accident?

As a parent, you naturally worry your child may be hurt in a motor vehicle accident. And when such accidents do occur, you naturally want to hold someone responsible. However, Tennessee law often frustrates parental anger, especially when it comes to negligence and motor vehicles.

Step-Grandmother Not Responsible for Teenager’s ATV Accident

The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently addressed liability in the context of a woman who allowed two teenage girls under her supervision to use an all-terrain vehicle (ATV). One of the girls was the defendant’s step-granddaughter; the other was the girl’s friend. The defendant gave the granddaughter permission to drive the ATV to another friend’s house about a mile away. The friend was supposed to ride with the granddaughter, the defendant later testified, but during their return trip the girls “switched positions,” and the friend subsequently drove the ATV “off a cliff, causing serious injuries to both girls.”

The granddaughter’s mother sued the step-grandmother, arguing the latter was negligent in entrusting the girls with the ATV and in failing to supervise them. A Tennessee trial court eventually granted summary judgment to the grandmother, dismissing all claims against her. The mother then appealed.

But the Court of Appeals agreed with the trial judge. There were two principal issues here. The first was whether the grandmother was liable for “negligent entrustment” of her ATV to the girls. Under Tennessee law, a plaintiff must establish four elements to prove negligent entrustment:

  1. An item of tangible property (known as a “chattel”) must be entrusted;
  2. The entrusted person is “incompetent” to use the item;
  3. The defendant knew the entrusted person was incompetent; and
  4. The use of the item was the “proximate cause of injury or damage to another.”

In this case, the Court of Appeals explained, the plaintiffs’ claim failed because she could not establish the second element. That is, the plaintiffs never offered evidence either the granddaughter or her friend were “incompetent” to operate the ATV. To the contrary, the court said, the plaintiffs acknowledged “both girls had operated the ATVs on prior occasions,” which negated any unsubstantiated claim they were incompetent.

The second issue the Court of Appeals considered was the grandmother’s alleged “negligent supervision.” When it comes to a parent or custodian’s liability for the acts of minors, Tennessee law requires proof “the child had a specific tendency to engage in conduct similar to that causing the injury at issue.” Here, the court found the step-grandmother had no reason to believe her granddaughter or her friend “would disregard her instructions regarding who was to drive” the ATV. Furthermore, the defendant had no legal duty to supervise the friend’s operation of the ATV.

Need Help from a Personal Injury Lawyer?

The law can be confusing for parents struggling to make sense of things following an accident that seriously injures their child. That is why it is important to seek assistance from a qualified Tennessee personal injury lawyer. Contact the offices of Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette, Attorneys at Law, in Clinton or Knoxville today if you need to speak with an attorney right away.

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