A recent Commonwealth Court decision in Pennsylvania (Franklin v. PennDOT) arose from PennDOT’s suspension of a woman’s driver’s license for her failure to satisfy a judgment originally entered against her son as the result of an automobile accident involving him.
If a child under the age of 18 years commits a tort (which is an injury or damage inflicted on another wrongfully, such as damage resulting from negligent operation of a car), a parent may be responsible, if a judgment is entered against the minor child. A judgment not to exceed $2,500 may be entered against a parent if the child fails to satisfy the judgment against him or her.
Under the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Code, if a person is involved in an accident, and as a result a monetary judgment is entered against him or her, PennDOT may suspend his or her driver’s license. Among other things, the law is aimed at those who are uninsured or under-insured.
PennDOT was made aware of the entry of a judgment against a woman whose son had been in an automobile accident. The son was sued as a result, and ultimately a judgment was entered against him and his mother (under the Act cited above). When she failed to satisfy the judgment, PennDOT suspended her driver’s license on the ground that it was a judgment arising from an automobile accident.
The mother appealed and the Court found in her favor and restored her driver’s license. In its ruling the Court reasoned that the purpose of the law which permits suspension of the license, as described above, is to penalize the financially irresponsible driver from the road; however, since the mother was not directly involved (as the driver) in the accident which resulted in the entry of the judgment against her, her license could not be suspended for her failure to satisfy the judgment. The Court concluded that the mother’s liability on the judgment was too far removed from the accident to permit her suspension.
The decision is sensible, and the fact that the Court was unanimous in its opinion should send a message to PennDOT that it overreached in this case. Encouraging everyone to be insured properly is laudable, but PennDOT stretched the purpose of the Motor Vehicle Code unreasonably.
— Ken Butera