Can Parents Be Held Responsible If Their Teen Causes a Car Accident?

Apr 26, 2024 | Education

Giving the keys to the car to your teen is usually a huge moment for any parent or guardian. It’s like a rite of passage, giving your child that little bit of freedom while still having to deal with a bit of anxiety. One of the main reasons for that anxiety is the fear of your teen getting into a car accident. But what happens when a teenager is responsible for a car accident?

For starters, it’s best to book an appointment with a car accident attorney to understand the legal implications behind the accident.

Now, you might wonder whether a parent or a teen driver is held liable for a car accident and if a claim for compensation can be brought against them. Here is what you need to keep in mind.

Who is Liable?

Generally speaking, when you own a vehicle, you’re liable for any incident that vehicle causes. There are just a couple of rare exceptions to this rule, most notably, if the car is stolen, then the owner of the vehicle typically wouldn’t be held responsible for any accidents that happen after the car is reported stolen.

However, a teenager can be held liable for stealing a car owned by their parents unless the parents want to press charges against their own kids, and even if they did, they might still be held responsible for any accident caused by their teenager.

Furthermore, if the parents’ insurance covers their teenager as well, then the portion of the liability of the insurance policy triggers and will go on to cover any expenses linked to the incident. Typically, insurance policies have property damage and bodily injury coverage. They handle the damage done to the aggrieved car or property and the cost of their medical expenses, if any.

Negligent Entrustment

This legal theory dictates that a parent can be held responsible for an accident caused by their teenage child if they should’ve known or knew that their child may be a danger to other road users and didn’t take steps to prevent their teenager from hitting the road.

For instance, let’s say the parents know that their teen’s license was suspended, that their child doesn’t really know how to drive in the city or on highways, and that they have been part of four accidents in the last 12 months. Taking all this into consideration, they still allow their teen to take the car and go on a cross-country road trip with their friends.

During this trip, their teen causes an accident. Under negligent entrustment, the parents can be held responsible to compensate for any damages and harm that their teenage driver caused, since they were aware of the potential risk the teenager posed when they got behind the wheel of a car.

Vicarious Liability

Some states in the United States have passed legislation specifically designed to hold parents and guardians accountable for property damage, injuries, and any other harm caused by the inactions or actions of their teenager in the harm caused to another party.

When it comes to car accidents, depending on the jurisdiction or state, this kind of responsibility might sometimes be tagged “family purpose” or “family use” doctrine.

Under this legal school of thought, parents can be held responsible if the teen was pursuing a family “use” or “purpose” when driving. This purpose or use can be nearly anything, so long as the parent has control over how their minor is using the car.

A good example would be a case where the parent asked their teen driver to make a quick dash to the supermarket for grocery shopping and was involved in an accident. Here, the parent would be held responsible as the teenager was carrying out a task as instructed by their parent.

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