Kansas District Court Enters Summary Judgment in Favor of Former Husband/Stepfather in Wrongful Death Action Stemming from Auto Accident Involving a Minor Driver02/06/2023
Plaintiff brought a wrongful death claim against a 15-year-old minor, her mother, and the minor’s former stepfather. The 15-year-old driver was driving her younger siblings home when she was involved in an auto accident with Plaintiff’s spouse. At the time of the accident, the vehicle driven by the minor was titled to her mother and the mother’s former husband. Plaintiff alleged the mother and former husband/stepfather were jointly and severally liable with the minor pursuant to K.S.A. 8-222. Under that statute, the owner of a vehicle who causes or knowingly permits a minor under the age of 16 years to drive such vehicle upon a highway shall be jointly and severally liable with such minor for any damages caused by the negligence of such minor in driving such vehicle.
The former husband/stepfather argued that at the time of the accident, he had been separated from the minor’s mother for over a year and they had been divorced for over two months. The former husband/stepfather had not lived with the mother or her minor children for any amount of time during the separation and divorce. Further, as part of their divorce agreement, the mother retained possession of the vehicle the minor drove on the date of the accident and was responsible for the auto loan payments. The former husband/stepfather argued he could not cause or knowingly permit the minor to use the vehicle on the date of the accident because he was no longer living in the same household, he had no knowledge that the minor was using the vehicle, and he had no access to the vehicle on the date of the accident as it was in the mother’s possession.
The Court took judicial notice of the Divorce Decree and Marital Settlement Agreement and found that as part of the division of property, the mother received the vehicle driven by the minor on the date of the accident and all possessory rights of the vehicle transferred to the mother on the date the Divorce Decree was entered. Further, the Court found that the former husband/stepfather had no parental rights or control over the minor driver on the date of the accident. Therefore, Plaintiff could not establish that the former husband/stepfather caused or knowingly permitted the minor to drive the vehicle, and could not establish that the former husband/father gave or furnished the vehicle to the minor on the date of the accident. John Franke and Joan Sheridan represented the former husband/stepfather.