Signed into Law: Adult Sponsor of Minor Driver Liability Reform

On March 1, 2016, Governor Scott Walker signed into law 2015 Wisconsin Act 202, which limits the liability of a parent or other adult sponsoring a minor obtaining a driver’s license. Sen. Kapenga (R-Delafield) and Rep. Kuglitsch (R-New Berlin) championed the legislation (Assembly Bill 540/Senate Bill 408). WDC supported this important liability reform.

Wisconsin law requires a minor have an adult sponsor as a condition to obtaining a driver’s license. Pre-Act 202, a parent or adult sponsor of a minor’s driver’s license had unlimited liability for that minor’s driving. Act 202 protects otherwise innocent parents/sponsors by limiting the liability imputed to a parent or other adult sponsor to the greater of $300,000 or the limits of any applicable insurance coverage.

The Senate passed SB 408 on a voice vote in January, while the Assembly concurred in the legislation on a voice vote at the end of February.

In the United States, 26 states do not have a statute imputing liability to sponsors. Of the remaining 23 states having a statute imputing liability to the parent or other adult sponsor, 13 do not impute any liability if the minor has liability insurance at the state required minimums. Prior to Act 202, Wisconsin law was one of only eight states in which a parent or other adult sponsor has unlimited liability for injuries caused by the minor’s negligent acts while driving. See Wisconsin Defense Counsel’s testimony for a chart on other state laws.

In contrast, Wisconsin 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.” 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.”