Having teenagers can be fun. You get to have engaging conversations, watch them turn into young adults, and (let’s be honest here) you can enlist them to help with household chores. Then there are the stressors: conversations about peer pressure, worrying when they go out, and facing the day they learn how to drive.
Since driving schools are chock full of students learning their way behind the steering wheel, there’s always the chance of an accident. If when these new drivers go out to practice their newly acquired driving skills on actual roads, they are involved in an accident, who’s liable for damages?
Florida Liability Laws for Student Drivers
Florida is a comparative negligence jurisdiction. This means that, while you are able to recover damages for an accident, the amount you can recover will be reduced by your own percentage of negligence.
For example, let’s say you’re a student driver and the instructor sitting next to you tells you to make a right turn. The instructor also tells you to use the turn signal and to slow down as you approach the intersection. But you’re distracted and you neither slow down nor use the turn signal. A second driver runs a stoplight and hits your car in the intersection as you’re making the right turn. You end up with whiplash. The other driver has a broken wrist.
Let’s break down this scenario:
The parties involved include the student driver, the driving instructor, and the second driver who ran the stoplight.
- Was the instructor negligent? The Court will take into account whether the instructor gave you the proper instructions. In this case, yes, she did. Is there anything else the instructor could’ve done to prevent the accident? Some driving school vehicles include a brake pedal on the passenger side, precisely to prevent this kind of accident. If the vehicle had such pedal, the instructor could be found partly negligent for failing to use it. If there was no such pedal, the instructor wasn’t negligent.
- Were you negligent? Unless you’re hearing impaired, there will be a presumption that you heard the instructor telling you to slow down and use the turn signal. Therefore, yes, you were negligent. The Court will ascertain whether you were speeding and if you were wearing a seat belt and will also likely review medical records and the sworn testimony of medical professionals to establish whether your injuries could’ve been prevented by wearing a seat belt (if you weren’t wearing it). Your percentage of liability will be determined by taking all of these factors into account.
- Was the other driver negligent? Since the other driver ran a stoplight, yes, he was also negligent. A judge would confirm whether that driver was speeding, or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
The accident will be reconstructed by a process called “Discovery”. This is when attorneys from both sides request the names and contact information of witnesses; request surveillance footage of any cameras from homes or businesses at the site of the accident; request medical records from both parties; take sworn testimonies from parties involved and from their medical providers. Each item is a piece of the puzzle. Once the puzzle is complete, each party will be declared X% liable for the accident. That percentage will be deducted from the amount recoverable through the judgment.
Can the Student Driver’s Parents Be Held Liable?
When a person under 18 applies for a driver’s license or permit, Florida law establishes that their application is signed by a parent or legal guardian. The reason for this is so that in the case of an accident, the parent or guardian who signed the application will be held liable.
By the same token, if the student driver is 18 or older, they will be held responsible for any accidents they cause.
Can the Driving School Be Held Liable?
The school could be held liable if there is any indication that they were negligent. This would be investigated through the Discovery process. The attorney would request the hiring records of the school to find out if there was any indication that the instructor had a history of auto accidents with students. If that were the case and the school did nothing to remedy the situation, then yes, they could be found liable.
The same principle applies if the car involved in the accident is the property of the driving school and a mechanical failure partly or fully caused the accident. A judge will determine whether the school knew or had reason to know that there was a mechanical problem with the vehicle and whether they did anything to resolve it. Failing to provide maintenance or ignoring recall notices are a purposeful disregard of constructive notice of the defects.
Call Us If You Were Involved in a Car Accident in Tampa Bay
When you are involved in a car accident, the first thing to do is seek medical attention. The second most important thing is to consult with a car accident attorney as soon as possible in order to discuss the details of your collision and determine the best course of action.
Disclaimer: This blog is for informational purposes only and does not create an attorney/client relationship.