Is carpooling litigious?

“Do I Need a Liability Waiver to Carpool?”

Here’s a modern day dilemma that I don’t have an answer to. On this overcast Sunday (well, it’s overcast in NYC), thought I’d put it out there to you:

Dear yynzakehyn
Free-Range Kids: I have a question I think maybe your readers can help. Recently, my neighbor ask me to drive her 12-year-old boy for free to Sunday school, which is 15 miles away.

I do not mind doing so, since I have to drive my son to the same school anyway. But my friend asked me what if my neighbor sues me if a car accident happens? Now I am wondering if I need to give my neighbor a waiver to sign so that I will not be liable in case of a car accident. What do I need to do to protect myself? Any advice is welcome.



It’s horrifying to think in terms of an accident, and also horrifying to think that any interactions with our friends and neighbors would need to be brokered by lawyers. Certainly, we’ve driven other people’s kids. and friends have driven ours, without a second thought as to liability.

But this letter got me wondering, readers. Your thoughts?

Is carpooling litigious?

Does the long arm of litigation — and lawyers — reach carpooling?


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27 Responses to “Do I Need a Liability Waiver to Carpool?”

  1. Andrea October 9, 2016 at 12:10 pm #

    What does the case law say? Given the limited used of liability waivers currently, and that fact that automobile insurers don’t require them for non-household passengers, my inclination without much research is to say that no, she doesn’t need a waiver.

    That being said, I might get a waiver is she doesn’t have auto insurance, but if she is driving without insurance she has bigger problems.

  2. David DeLugas October 9, 2016 at 12:21 pm #

    Disclaimer: Although I am an attorney, this is not to be taken as legal advice. So don’t sue me!

    A waiver generally is not a defense to a claim against you should you have an accident and your neighbor’s child is injured. Why? Because the law assumes the person who signs a waiver is not waiving negligence (or intentional acts) on the part of the driver (you).

    Agreements not to sue (covenant not to sue) are similar (barring lawsuits) in that they may not be held to be valid as against public policy (you shouldn’t be encouraged to drive negligently).

    Drive carefully (as you always do, right?) and don’t worry. If in an accident that is due to your negligence, those hurt or who suffer property damage should recover against you (and your insurer).

    If you are willing to drive with your child in the car, why worry about having another person, a non-relative, in the car? You should be careful and enjoy the drive and the company (and the favor you are doing for others and they for you).

    Yes, we are a litigious society, but I cannot imagine anyone ever ASKING me for a waiver of liability should they be in an accident with my 9 year old in her or his car. THAT would make me wonder how bad a driver is that person to want a waiver!

  3. Curious October 9, 2016 at 12:24 pm #

    Why ask for opinion from the poorly informed?
    Ask your friendly helpful insurance agent for the facts.

  4. Hazel October 9, 2016 at 12:26 pm #

    “…automobile insurers don’t require them for non-household passengers…”


    I’m assuming this is not about car insurance, but health insurance. If an accident happened and that little boy needed medical care, presumably someone would have to pay for that. In the UK, we have free medical care (for now, until the Tories destroy the NHS and inflict a US-style system on us), so I don’t understand exactly how it works. However, in a system where the care has to be paid for by the patient, it makes sense to sue people in order to be able to pay those costs. As I understand it, co-pays can cripple a person even if they have good health insurance, plus the insurance company has a vested interest in trying to wriggle out of paying as much as they can.

  5. bmj2k October 9, 2016 at 12:47 pm #

    If you get into an accident and it is the other driver’s fault, you aren’t responsible.
    If you get into an accident and it is your fault, be an adult and take responsibility.
    The law may say something otherwise, but that’s how I see it.

  6. Liz October 9, 2016 at 12:48 pm #

    I don’t know the answer to this question, but this sort of situation is exactly why my husband and I took out an umbrella policy on top of our home and auto insurance. Umbrella policies cover expenses above and beyond your other policies’ limits of liability and make sense especially if you are relatively well off/have a lot of assets. It is terrible to think that friends might sue you, but I wouldn’t underestimate anyone when their kids are the ones injured on your property or in your car. We had similar thoughts to your letter writer with regards to having a pool. We do everything we can to keep our kids and other people’s kids safe around the pool, but who is to say that one day one of our kids’ friends won’t dive in the shallow end and suffer a serious injury that we could potentially be sued for? The umbrella policy gives us more peace of mind for those possibilities.

  7. Suzanne October 9, 2016 at 1:05 pm #

    I would think the fault of the accident would override any liability form. What I mean is, there is no way to accurately determine whether or not you will be at fault in an accident before it happens. So if you have an accident and you’re found to be at fault that waiver is garbage. If you have an accident and the other driver is at fault I don’t think the parents would be able to hold to accountable for it so I think a liability waiver would be useless in this situation.

  8. Randy October 9, 2016 at 1:30 pm #

    Ironically, I just drove the carpool to Sunday school and one of the occupants is the daughter of a prominent personal injury lawyer in my town. Your auto insurance will cover non-family members whom you are driving.

  9. Mya Greene October 9, 2016 at 1:56 pm #

    Worries about liability have gotten way out of control. I think the wrong types of lawyers have sucesfully conquered the country. Now we just need a holiday in their honor.

  10. MichaelF October 9, 2016 at 2:50 pm #

    We carpool with kids to Middle School all the time, never done a waiver.

    Sometimes we do it for a Sunday Class where I often have my niece or nephew in the car. Never done a waiver.

    The fact that its brought up is sort of sad in that thinking about worst case the idea of litigation comes up. When it shouldn’t.

  11. Vonnegan October 9, 2016 at 3:19 pm #


    Here in the US, your own health insurance should cover you in event of an accident or otherwise. If your health insurer is incurring substantial costs, however, they will send you a form to fill out, asking (in short) “was this a result of an accident, and if so, can we go after anyone else to cover the cost?” So in other words, if you were injured in a car accident that was covered by the driver’s insurance, the insurance companies would work out who paid for what (maybe via litigation, maybe not).

  12. Kimberly October 9, 2016 at 5:52 pm #

    If she’s worried about being sued, she needs to check with her car insurance provider and make sure that her car insurance will cover medical bills and property damage in the event of an accident. If the accident is the fault of the other driver, then their insurance would cover everything including medical and property damage.

  13. SteveS October 9, 2016 at 6:15 pm #

    David said exactly what I wanted to say. Generally speaking, liability waivers don’t really do what some people think they do. They aren’t some kind of shield that makes you immune to liability. I tend to avoid needless risk, but I wouldn’t dream of asking anyone to sign something like this.

  14. Vaughan Evans October 9, 2016 at 7:22 pm #

    This is a contentious question.
    to make. We have a rule that a driver is o be paid-at the end of the return trip home

    (The Reason: No accident will occur-After the car rip has ended.

    NOTE ALSO: Sometimes, a person who chauffeurs a baby-sitting home-after her work-is disentitled from car insurance./ If it says in the contract that she will be chauffeured home-that technically means carrying someone for hire.

  15. Emily October 9, 2016 at 9:03 pm #

    I had an online friend, years ago, who told me about one of her younger sisters (a much younger sister; I think she was about seven or eight at the time) being involved in a car accident. The accident happened when she was being driven home from dance or gymnastics class (I forget which) by her instructor. As it happened, the little girl lost her memory, and had to re-learn pretty much everything she’d known before, and her personality changed in the process. It was probably very scary and traumatizing for her, but…..she recovered, eventually. She remembered who she was, who her family members were, the rules of the house, her interests (dance, gymnastics, cheerleading, singing, and theatre), and life resumed as normal. Her mother was upset with the instructor who’d given her daughter a ride home, because the child was still small enough to need a booster seat, but there wasn’t one in the instructor’s car, and apparently, the booster seat would have saved her. However, she didn’t sue, or even withdraw her daughter from the class–she sent her back as soon as she felt better, and I think that’s the way it should be. So, no, I don’t think liability waivers are necessary for carpooling.

  16. James Pollock October 9, 2016 at 10:17 pm #

    “Car insurance” is actually several different kinds of coverage.

    First off, there is liability insurance. This covers you in case you are the cause of someone else’s loss. YOU get nothing, but this means that if you cause an accident, the other person will be made whole (to the limits of the policy). This kind of insurance is generally mandatory and required by the state, and it’s what the cop is interested in when he or she asks for “proof of insurance”.

    Second, there’s “uninsured motorist” coverage. This protects YOU in the case of an accident caused by someone else who is not insured. This is also, AFAIK, usually mandatory.

    Third, there’s “Personal injury Protection”, or PIP, coverage. This specifically covers the cost of medical treatment, and applies to anyone in your car who suffers injury as a result of a car accident. The limits of this coverage are fairly low; the purpose of this coverage is to ensure that people who need emergency medical care following a car accident can get it, even if they lack medical insurance (or need help with co-pays or deductibles)

    Fourth, and finally, there’s casualty coverage. This covers you in case of accident, theft, or other loss related to your car. If you are financing your vehicle, the lender will PROBABLY require this type of coverage, otherwise, it is optional. It may or may not be a good option for you; check with your insurance agent to learn details.

    The chief danger, as I see it, would be to people who are very well off, who cause an accident with severe and long-lasting injury requiring ongoing medical care. The reason they’d be in danger would be that the policy limits of the liability portion of your car insurance are probably low, in the six figures. An injury involving life-long care could run into seven or even eight figures, and if you have that much, the insurance company pays out its limit, and you are on the hook for the rest.

    So… what exactly IS a liability waiver for, anyway? It would be for activities which are inherently dangerous, and cannot be made to be safe. A person or business which makes facilities, equipment, or property available for such a dangerous activity may disclaim liability from people who wish to participate even after being made aware of the risks. The classic example is skiing; people who ski risk serious injury, even death, as a result of participating in their chosen recreation. If the property owners where people ski were strictly liable for all the injuries suffered by skiers, they would either A) have to charge fees sufficient to cover all the costs, including payouts to injured skiers B) prohibit skiing, or C) make it so safe it wouldn’t really be skiing any more. So the law allows for D) the legal concept of “express assumption of the risk”. Technically speaking, express assumption of the risk does not require signed waivers… it requires informed consent of participants, which means that would-be participants are made aware that there are risks to the activity, and they do it anyway. There is a related legal concept, implied assumption of the risk, which does NOT require informed consent, just a “you should have known this was dangerous” My state, Oregon, specifically disavows implied assumption of the risk, but still allows express assumption of the risk.

    In law school, some of the cases you read to learn about how this works involve being a spectator at a baseball game (where you have the risk of being hit by a foul ball, a home run, or an errantly-thrown ball, depending on where you are seated. The more recent cases involve whether being warned about foul balls includes being hit by OTHER objects, such as hot dogs, or t-shirts fired by a t-shirt cannon.

  17. MichelleB October 9, 2016 at 10:23 pm #

    Wow, there’s a lot of worst first thinking in that question! What if there’s an accident? What if the child gets hurt? What if the injuries are so bad that it involves a lawsuit?

    It really makes me wonder what kind of relationship this woman has with her neighbor.

  18. Kimberly October 9, 2016 at 11:28 pm #

    This is why you have car insurance. I’m not a lawyer but from what I’ve been told, and what I’ve seen in the news the liability waivers are a bit of a scam. The purpose is to convince people that they have no recourse/right to sue when they actually do. The waivers do no good in court, if someone decides to sue.

  19. Andrea Drummond October 10, 2016 at 12:26 am #

    I don’t know. I drove my friend’s kid an hour away to Richmond and then back and she didn’t have a problem with it. Of course I had the thought that something could happen but I have that thought every time. I was really just honored that she trusted me with her kid like that. I didn’t even think about needing a waiver or anything.

  20. James Pollock October 10, 2016 at 2:28 am #

    “The waivers do no good in court, if someone decides to sue.”

    Depends on what they’re used for. They ARE effective in assigning liability when used correctly.

  21. sexhysteria October 10, 2016 at 3:43 am #

    I ask for a waiver even when I bring a shirt to the cleaners.

  22. James Pollock October 10, 2016 at 4:34 am #

    “I ask for a waiver even when I bring a shirt to the cleaners.”

    Seems fair. They’re probably getting one from you. (Specifically, they insert a liability limitation… they’re only liable to the extend of their cleaning fee for damage to your property. So if the dry-cleaning process damages your clothing, all you can do is refuse to pay them.)

  23. Jake October 10, 2016 at 5:22 am #

    Of course you need a waiver. You take full responsibility, every time someone get in your car.

  24. mer October 10, 2016 at 6:04 am #


    Auto insurance while it is a good idea, is not mandatory in all states. States decide the rules on auto insurance. NH is one that does not require insurance (if you are leasing the car or borrowing money to pay for it the financier may require it), but they have the concept of “ability to pay”.

  25. Dave October 10, 2016 at 8:22 pm #

    Assuming you have good liability insurance, your insurer will defend and indemnify you up to the limit of the policy – after that you’d be on your own. If more than one person was suing, chances are you’d quickly exceed the policy’s value.

    Two solutions – get a waiver form from your lawyer. If they’re honest, it won’t cost much since this is pretty much an “off the self” document. Or, increase the limits on your liability insurance or get an umbrella policy. I increased my limit to two million when my son was in Scouts and I often had four or five boys in the car on trips. It wasn’t all that expensive.

  26. Ravin October 11, 2016 at 10:46 am #

    I’m an attorney but this is not my area of specialty and not professional legal advice.

    My understanding of the way the whole car insurance thing works in most states is, if you are in an accident and you are at fault (partially or wholly, and how that is figured out changes from one state to another), the child (through parents) can sue you. The main purpose for doing this is so your insurance will pay out on a claim for injury.

    Liability waivers are often not worth the paper they are printed on. They are a CYA measure, which usually are required by businesses and the like to keep their insurance companies happy. At best they act as a deterrent for people who believe that when they sign something like that they should keep their word and not go off the rails with a lawsuit.

    If you are at fault in an accident and the child is injured, wouldn’t you want your insurance to pay out for the child’s injuries? I would in that situation, even if it meant my premiums go up.

    I vote for not jumping on the CYA waiver train.

  27. cirelo October 17, 2016 at 9:22 pm #

    This makes me laugh as recently my parents asked for proof of health insurance when they watched my daughters for a weekend. I thought they were crazy–though apparently they aren’t the only overly cautious crazies. I’m pretty sure when I was growing up an insurance card wasn’t required along with a sleeping bag at slumber parties either.