Parents should not always take fall - professor

Melony Lowe was asked to pay damages after her son walked in front of a car near the Loloma Dr-Bucklands Beach Rd intersection.  Photo / Sarah Ivey
Melony Lowe was asked to pay damages after her son walked in front of a car near the Loloma Dr-Bucklands Beach Rd intersection. Photo / Sarah Ivey

A legal expert has hit back at claims by the insurance industry that parents are liable for damage caused by their children.

Yesterday, the Herald reported Bucklands Beach woman Melony Lowe was being chased for almost $1600 worth of damages to a car that her 12-year-old son ran into as he crossed the road after school last month.

NZI claimed Ms Lowe was responsible for her son, and therefore, his actions and the damage he caused when his scooter hit the car.

The Insurance Council of New Zealand agreed with the stance and said it was standard practice.

But Canterbury University law professor Stephen Todd said they were wrong.

"Parents are responsible only if in some way they are personally negligent in failing to control a child in circumstances where they should foresee harm done by the child.

"They are not responsible simply because damage was caused by their child," he said.
There did not seem to be anything in the facts to suggest the mother was personally negligent, he said.

NZI spokesman Craig Dowling said yesterday the company did not disagree with Professor Todd's legal opinion, but had no plans to change the way it operated.

"Yes, NZI has written to seek recovery for the costs faced as a result of the accident. We reserve our right to do that or else, in other situations it could promote behaviours in which people walk away from their responsibility," he said.

Ms Lowe said her insurer would cover the damages, but she still had to pay a $300 excess. She was taking legal advice and considering whether to contest the matter.

Insurance and Savings Ombudsman Karen Stevens said she had not dealt with a case like Ms Lowe's before.

"We can only deal with complaints made by consumers about their own insurers. This is a case where Ms Lowe would be complaining about the driver's insurer, as a third party, and one we couldn't consider," she said.

"Having said that, I understand that an insurer would generally try to look to the other party involved, if it was believed their insured was not at fault. However, while this might be the strict legal position, there are always a number of factors to consider in a case involving a child who was hit by a car."

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- NZ Herald

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