Minor Driver’s Sponsorship Liability Bills Pass Legislature

UPDATE: Governor Scott Walker signed this bill into law as 2015 Wisconsin Act 202 on Tuesday, March 1, 2016.

Sen. Kapenga (R-Delafield) and Rep. Kuglitsch (R-New Berlin) championed legislation (Assembly Bill 540/Senate Bill 408) to limit the liability that may be imputed to an innocent parent or other adult who sponsors a person under the age of 18 in obtaining a motor vehicle operator’s license. Under current Wisconsin law, Wisconsin is one of only eight states in which a parent or other adult who sponsors a minor driver has unlimited liability for injuries caused by the minor’s negligent acts while driving.

The Senate passed SB 408 on a voice vote in January, while the Assembly concurred in the legislation on a voice vote last week.

The bill would limit the liability imputed to a parent or other adult sponsor to the greater of $300,000 or the limits of any insurance coverage provided to the minor under the parent or adult sponsor’s applicable insurance policies, whichever is greater.

Wisconsin already has a $5,000 limit on liability imputed to a parent “for personal injury attributable to a willful, malicious, or wanton act of the child.” Yet, if a child negligently causes a car accident, the parent or other adult sponsor faces unlimited liability.

When testifying at the Assembly public hearing, supporters of the bill expressed that the legislation can “guarantee that those who are injured by a minor driver can still be awarded properly, but protects against catastrophic liability and financial ruin for the sponsor or parent of the minor.”

In the United States, 27 states do not have a statute imputing such liability to a parent or other adult sponsor. Of the remaining 23 states which have a statute that imputes liability, 14 of those states do not impute any liability to the parent or other adult sponsor if the minor has liability insurance at the state required minimums.