In Wisconsin, all drivers under the age of 18 are required to have a sponsor before they can be issued a driving instruction permit or a driver’s license. When a sponsor (usually a parent) signs a minor’s driver license application, the sponsor accepts complete liability for any damages caused by the minor while driving.

Pursuant to Wisconsin Statutes, “any negligence or willful misconduct of a person under the age of 18 years when operating a motor vehicle upon the highways is imputed to the parents where both have custody and either parent signed as a sponsor, otherwise, it is imputed to the adult sponsor who signed the application for such person’s license. The parents or the adult sponsor is jointly and severally liable with such operator for any damages caused by such negligent or willful misconduct.” Wis. Stat., § 343.15(2)(b).

At first glance, one would assume that the above-cited statute means that when a minor’s parents are not married, and the parents share joint legal custody of the minor, both parents are liable for damages caused by the minor while driving – but this is not the case. Wis. Stat., § 343.15(2)(a) states that “in this subsection, ‘custody’ does not mean joint legal custody as defined in s. 767.001(1s).” In 2002, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals dismissed all claims against a child’s mother for injuries and damages caused by her daughter’s driving and found that only the minor child’s father was legally responsible for damages caused by the child’s driving because the parents were divorced, and only the child’s father signed the sponsorship for his daughter to obtain a driver’s license. This finding was made by the court despite the fact the child’s mother had actual physical placement of the minor child pursuant to the terms of the court-ordered physical placement schedule at the time of the automobile accident that resulted in the lawsuit. All In Wisconsin, all drivers under the age of 18 are required to have a sponsor before they can be issued a driving instruction permit or a driver’s license. When a sponsor (usually a parent) signs a minor’s driver license application, the sponsor accepts complete liability for any damages caused by the minor while driving.

Pursuant to Wisconsin Statutes, “any negligence or willful misconduct of a person under the age of 18 years when operating a motor vehicle upon the highways is imputed to the parents where both have custody and either parent signed as a sponsor, otherwise, it is imputed to the adult sponsor who signed the application for such person’s license. The parents or the adult sponsor is jointly and severally liable with such operator for any damages caused by such negligent or willful misconduct.” Wis. Stat., § 343.15(2)(b).

At first glance, one would assume that the above-cited statute means that when a minor’s parents are not married, and the parents share joint legal custody of the minor, both parents are liable for damages caused by the minor while driving – but this is not the case. Wis. Stat., § 343.15(2)(a) states that “in this subsection, ‘custody’ does not mean joint legal custody as defined in s. 767.001(1s).” In 2002, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals dismissed all claims against a child’s mother for injuries and damages caused by her daughter’s driving and found that only the minor child’s father was legally responsible for damages caused by the child’s driving because the parents were divorced, and only the child’s father signed the sponsorship for his daughter to obtain a driver’s license. This finding was made by the court despite the fact the child’s mother had actual physical placement of the minor child pursuant to the terms of the court-ordered physical placement schedule at the time of the automobile accident that resulted in the lawsuit.

All unmarried parents of minor drivers should be aware that if they sign the adult sponsorship form for their minor child’s driver license application, they are assuming complete liability for any injuries or damages caused by the minor child while driving, even if the child is not actually placed with that parent or under the sponsoring parent’s actual custody and control when the child is involved in an accident caused by the child’s negligence or willful misconduct. If you have any questions about what you can do to protect yourself while still sponsoring your minor child on their driver license application, you may contact our office at 715-344-0890.

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