(CN) – A Florida couple is liable for letting their 13-year-old son ride an all-terrain vehicle, which his friend drove into a tree and died, a Florida appeals court ruled.
Roger and Karen Fina bought a pair of ATVs when their son Nicholas was 11 or 12 years old so he could ride around their 9.5-acre property.
The ATVs had warning labels that stated: “Operating this ATV if you are under the age of 16 increases your chance of severe injury or death. NEVER operate this ATV if you are under the age of 16.”
One day, Nicholas and his friend, Matt Imbres, went to spend the day with their friends, Sara Hennarichs and Alexa Majdalawi. Alexa’s mother was supposed to watch the girls, but she decided to go shopping.
Nicholas allowed Sara and Matt to take a ride on his ATV. Though she was wearing a helmet, Sara lost control, crashed into a tree and later died. She was also 13.
Her father, Duane Hennarichs, sued the Finas for negligence. The jury awarded Hennarichs $4.5 million in damages, apportioning the blame as follows: Roger 35 percent, Karen 35 percent, Alexa’s mother 15 percent, Nicolas 10 percent and Sara 5 percent.
The Finas appealed, but Judge Gerber of the West Palm Beach-based Fourth District Court of Appeal upheld the decision.
Gerber ruled that the Finas’ arguments that it is not against the law for children to ride ATVs – and that Nicholas was not driving – are irrelevant.
“Although the Finas’ disregard of the warning label does not make them strictly liable, the fact that they disregarded the warning label and manual potentially makes them liable for the foreseeable consequences of that choice,” Gerber wrote.
The judge also refuted the Finas’ argument that they could not have foreseen that Nicholas would allow another child to ride the ATV.
“(Sara’s) estate presented evidence that Roger and Karen set an example of disregarding the warnings that came with the ATV. Under those circumstances, it should have come as no surprise to them that Nicolas would have disregarded their rules too,” Gerber wrote.