If my mentally disabled son found keys in a car and proceeded to drive it and crashed, amI responsible?

UPDATED: Jul 29, 2011

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If my mentally disabled son found keys in a car and proceeded to drive it and crashed, amI responsible?

I have an autistic child who is 10 years old chronologically but who is mentally 6. He wandered from our home late at night and found a car with keys in it at a car lot. He then drove the car around the lot and crashed it. Am I responsible for all the damage part of the damage or can I get the car lot for negligence, since they left the keys in the car with the windows down? The police report said that my son gave them the keys to the car when they showed up at the lot.

Asked on July 29, 2011 Arizona


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

You *might* be able to sue the parking lot for negligence, if under the circumstances, it was negligent to leave the keys in the car with the windows down. (It very likely was, since that would facilitate *anyone* taking the car, but it's possible that if they otherwise had gates, good security, etc., that it was not; it depends on whether it was unreasonably careless on the totality of the circumstances.)

However, they may be able to defend against, or least reduce, liability based on your own contributory negligence if you did not monitor your son adequately. If someone is him- or herself negligent, then that reduces what he or she could receive for another's negligence, since a party at fault him- or herself is not alllowed to "profit" by his or her actions.

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