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Parents who gave son car not liable for crash Appeals Court finds gift does not imply responsibility


If you buy your adult children a car, boat or power tool, you can't be held responsible if they hurt someone with it, the Court of Appeals ruled yesterday.

In a decision that reversed judgments by a Baltimore County Circuit Court and the Court of Special Appeals, Maryland's highest court ruled that a Butler couple could not be held responsible when their son crashed his car head-on into a Baltimore County woman's car.

The ruling removes all legal responsibilities from parents who transfer chattel, or property, to adult children, even if they know those children are likely to harm others with the property.

"This is a blueprint for how to abdicate responsibility with impunity," said John T. Ward, the lawyer who represented the Baltimore County woman.

"It's an absolutely foolproof way for anyone in Maryland to put others at risk by putting some item into the hands of someone not able to handle it," he said.

In February 1992, Ronald L. and Eleanor V. Broadwater gave a 10-year-old Mazda RX-7 to their son, Ronald L. Broadwater Jr.

Six months later, he drove the car into oncoming traffic on Falls Road in Baltimore County, crashing into a car driven by Matilda W. Dorsey.

Dorsey said the Broadwaters were negligent when they gave the car to their son, then 26, who had a history of traffic violations and drug abuse. They should have known he was likely to drive recklessly and pose a risk to others, Dorsey said.

The appeals court disagreed, holding that even though Broadwater might have acted irresponsibly, he was an adult and the car was titled in his name.

And even though Broadwater's parents paid for the car and the insurance on it, they could not be held responsible for his bad driving, the court held.

"Dr. and Mrs. Broadwater had no legal right to control Ronald Jr. at the time of the accident because he was an adult," the court held. "Their continuing financial support of their son does not confer on them any legally cognizable right to control his action."

Matthew S. Sturtz, the Broadwaters' attorney said that he hopes the ruling "gives parents a certain level of comfort in selling or giving their children not only automobiles, but any form of chattel -- even power tools."

Pub Date: 2/15/97

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