Five California families are mourning the death of their teenaged children this weekend, who all perished early Saturday morning in a fiery car crash. Our deepest sympathies go out to these families as they struggle to come to terms with so much loss.
At sometime after 2 A.M. early Saturday morning first responders arrived on the southbound 5 Freeway to find a 1995 BMW sedan at rest on top of the 20 feet tall barriers lining the side of the freeway. The five passengers, three boys and two girls, were still inside the vehicle. All had died in the accident and their bodies badly burned by the fire.
It is still unclear whether the 16-year-old driver and only survivor, was ejected from the vehicle or had managed to escape. He is at Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo being treated for a head injury.
The group was returning from a trip to Knott's Scary Farm when the accident occurred between Sand Canyon Avenue and Alton Parkway on the southbound side of the freeway. The freeway was closed during the investigation but reopened by 9:15 Saturday morning. Officials are still unclear as to what caused the accident but are speculating that high speeds may have played a role. According to reports there is no reason at this time to believe that drugs or alcohol were involved.
The 16-year-old driver should not have been out on the road at that time, nor should he have had any passengers. It is alleged that the driver was unlicensed at the time of the collision, but even if he had a license, he should not have been driving. The restricted license for drivers in his age group prohibits driving between 11 P.M. and 5 A.M. They are also not permitted to have any passengers under the age of 20 riding with them unless they are being accompanied by a licensed driver over the age of 25.
Teenagers found guilty of violating their provisional license are typically sentenced to community service and/or fines in California, and a loss of driving privileges for repeat offenders. The fact that this case involved a collision could also result in a DMV warning for the driver if he is found to be at fault for the accident.
The parents of the young driver are in a precarious position as the families of the deceased may file civil charges against them. Parents are liable for the actions of a 16-year-old in California, even if the vehicle and insurance are registered to the minor. This means that they may be facing multiple car accident lawsuits filed against them.
The parent liability child's act allows for those injured by a minor to seek restitution from the person or person's legally responsible for them. In California there is a general rule that protects parents from torts committed by their minor child, but exceptions are made to that statute under certain conditions. Driving accidents such as this one is one of those exceptions.
Since the minor was likely in possession of a provisional license at the time, the parent who signed and verified the driver's license application could possibly be held liable. There are situations where limits to the amount of money which can be pursued for injury damages comes into play, $15,000 per individual or $30,000 for two or more persons. If there was also property damage, the parent could be responsible for additional costs.
In California, the parent who signed the driver's license application maintains the right to revoke that signature at any time if they no longer feel confident in their teenaged driver. This will result in the automatic revocation of the driver's license.
The parents of minors who have not yet been granted a driver's license are subject to the same penalties, but only if it can be proven that the minor was driving with their express or implied permission. Otherwise, the case would fall under intentional wrongdoing and the liability to the parent would be limited to around $40,000. This amount is adjusted periodically to account for inflation. Only medical and dental expenses would be allowed in this type of claim.
These laws and provisions are designed to not only protect victims who are injured by minors, but also the parents who do not always have absolute control over their children's actions.
There is no way of knowing at this time what the outcome of the Irvine car accident will be, as right now the details of what caused the crash still remain a mystery.
We do know that the upcoming months are going to be extremely difficult for all of the families who have been affected by this horrific tragedy as they deal with the losses of these young lives as well as the legal issues that arise as a result. Again, our deepest condolences go out to all of them and we can only hope that over time they will be able to move on.