Florida has a large population of retirees and many drivers in their 70s, 80s and some even 90s.
Among the numerous conflicts that arise between elderly parents and adult children is deciding when a senior parent should give up his or her car keys and stop driving. Many elderly parents want to keep driving as long as possible, even when they should no longer do so. Driving allows them the freedom to live independently.
But what happens if you are caring for an aging parent, and he or she is involved in a serious auto accident. Are you potentially liable?
Are Seniors More Likely to Be in an Accident?
This is actually a complicated question. That answer to it depends on the specific facts of the situation.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that the risk of being seriously injured or killed in a car accident increases among drivers around 70 to 74 years of age, based on risk per mile driven. The risk of injury is not necessarily due to being involved in more collisions. Instead, the CDC reports that seniors who are involved in motor vehicle crashes simply may be more frail and likely to suffer serious injuries or have more medical complications than younger drivers.
The CDC suggests that much of the increased risk comes from changes in vision, hearing, reflexes and reaction times, as well as cognitive decline.
While Florida law does not consider aging an automatic risk factor or prohibit elderly drivers from maintaining driving privileges, Florida does have additional driving laws for the elderly, such as requiring more frequent license renewal periods and a vision test for drivers once they reach 80.
Discussing Concerns About Safe Driving With Older Parents
If you have an older adult living in your home, you already know that autonomy means everything.
After a lifetime of independence, it can be tough to give up even the smallest amount of personal freedom. And driving is definitely freedom. It means the ability to get to the grocery and pharmacy when you want to go.
Driving means being able to go to the church you want to attend at the time you want to go. It means making dates with friends, attending club meetings and other gatherings. In short, driving is not just a task, many seniors see it as a final remnant of the freedoms of their youth and middle adulthood. Giving up that freedom should not be diminished or overlooked.
It’s no wonder that most adult children find it difficult to raise concerns when they suspect an aging parent is no longer able to drive. It can be natural to delay, avoid the conversation, or outright ignore the problem. Here are a couple tips for discussing driving and safety with an elderly parent:
- Be open and honest. Just have the talk.
- Start with respect. This person raised you and deserves compassion, not a lecture.
- Get help. Community resources or trusted leaders, like a pastor or doctor, can often work with you to discuss these sensitive issues with your loved one.
Who is Responsible for an Auto Accident Caused by a Senior Driver?
A lot of people who are caring for aging parents worry about what could happen if the aging parent was to cause an auto accident or hit a pedestrian.
In Florida, adults are responsible for their own actions.
Provided your aging adult member of the family is an adult, is of sound mind, and is legally able to make decisions for himself or herself, you are generally not liable for the actions of that person. There are some big exceptions, however.
Understanding Fiduciary Relationships
Is a power of attorney responsible for car accident injuries? If you hold a valid power of attorney or have been appointed the legal guardian for a senior, you may have additional responsibilities as outlined in the document.
Being named agent under a power of attorney does not automatically create liability, but once you accept the responsibilities and begin acting as your elderly parent’s agent, you may assume certain liabilities if you are not careful.
Dementia and Other Mental Impairments
Whether it is Alzheimer’s disease or some other form of dementia or mental impairment, a senior who is losing the ability to recall key facts or places should not be driving an automobile.
Still, are you legally responsible for your elderly parents? Not necessarily. The facts of every situation are unique, and this is a question that should really be discussed with an elder law attorney. Regardless of your situation, your responsibility for elderly parent driving is a case-by-case situation.
Loaning Your Car to an Elderly Driver
An elderly driver lawsuit is challenging for everyone involved. If you loan your vehicle to someone you know to be unfit to drive, you may be liable for negligent entrustment. This can indeed create a serious issue of liability.
If your loved one has dementia, a vision problem, or you suspect some other dangerous limitation, you should speak with an attorney and get a clear understanding of your legal responsibilities before allowing your loved one to drive your vehicle.
Lawsuits and Liability in Florida Car Crashes
Elderly parent car accidents are heartbreaking. But if you are seriously injured by an elderly driver, you need to know where to turn. Chiumento, Dwyer, Hertel & Grant, P.L. has been in business in Florida since 1973, fighting for the rights of injured drivers in Flagler and Volusia counties. If you or someone you love has been injured by someone else’s negligence, contact us for a risk-free, no-cost consultation today.