Generally, a child cannot sue his or her parent for negligence in Florida. As is true in many areas of the law, there are special circumstances where the rule does not apply. Exceptions to the rule developed when the policy behind the rule began to vanish. Initially, the thought was that suing a parent would disrupt family life and impose a financial burden on the family as a whole so the courts protected families from inter-familial legal disputes by granting parents immunity for their negligence to children.
As more and more people purchased homeowner’s and automobile insurance, the monetary burden of a potential lawsuit moved from the family to the insurance company. Now, the family unit benefits from suing the negligent parent in the limited circumstances when the insurance company is required to step in because the insurance proceeds and not the family resources are used to pay for the child’s damages. The amount of damage the injured person can receive is usually capped at the policy limits.
Comparative negligence is the doctrine that requires the people who caused the injury to compensate the injured person in proportion to their own fault which contributed to their injury. Why? The law in Florida protects negligent people by not forcing them to pay for someone else’s negligence absent some special relationship. This means the parent’s fault can count against the amount of the award paid to the child by other at fault parties. Regardless of whether the injured child or a parent is suing, the amount of damages recoverable from the insurance company is usually capped at the policy limits.
However, a parent’s negligence cannot be attributed to the injured child to limit the child’s award in a negligence action or to the other parent to limit the award of the non-negligent parent in a wrongful death action. Why? The law in Florida protects negligence parties by not forcing them to pay for the negligence of other people absent some special relationship like employer-employee.
So, When Does Parental Immunity Disappear?
The immunity (protection from being sued) lies in the nature of the parent-child relationship. Exceptions arise where insurance covers the parent’s activity that causes the child’s injury. The most common example is related to a parent’s negligence in driving a motor vehicle. If the parent is even partially at fault in a car accident where his or her child is injured, the child has a right to sue the parent for expenses like medical bills and lost wages. If the child were to die as a result of that accident, the personal representative of the child’s estate (usually the other parent) would have a right to sue him or her in a wrongful death action.
This immunity does not extend to step parents. They do not have the same legal responsibilities as parents (whether natural or adopted) to provide support so they do not get the same rights. Step parents can be sued under the same circumstances as any other individual who causes an injury.
As you can see, parental liability is a touchy, difficult claim. It's strongly recommended that you don't attempt to settle your case without an attorney.
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