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Teen Car Accidents and Parental Liability

— March 9, 2022

Obtaining a driver’s license is a milestone in the lives of teenagers and parents may view it as an exciting step toward adulthood or with trepidation.

As a parent, you look after your children’s needs from the moment they come into the world. You attempt to do everything in your power to protect them and make sure they are healthy and happy. The parental relationship, especially in the case of minors, means that you may be held responsible for your child’s actions.

When it’s time for your teen to go to driving school in preparation for the test that will award a driving license if passed, most parents will feel a pang of worry. And when your teen begins to drive, there may be a few sleepless nights. All of this is normal and if your concern is limited to a bit of normal parental apprehension, all the better.

Unfortunately, when it comes to driving, teen drivers are at three times higher risk of dying in a car accident than a twenty-year-old or older.

Depending on the circumstances of an automobile accident, parents may bear legal liability for damages, injuries, and even death of car occupants or pedestrian victims if their teen was at the wheel. 

The Rules of the Road

Although your teen may be only sixteen or seventeen years of age when they begin driving, and therefore minors, they still are obliged to follow the law just like everyone else. They must use caution when they drive, and it doesn’t matter if they have less experience or driving skills or are immature once they pull out of your driveway. 

If they do not exercise caution and care when driving, causing property damage, injuries, or even death, they will be liable for damages, repairs, medical expenses, lost wages, and any other losses that result from a car accident.

Parental Knowledge and Resulting Responsibility

The legal theory of negligent entrustment supports the responsibility of a parent when he or she knows or should know that their teen poses a threat to other drivers or road users when driving. If the teen has already been involved in other accidents or has been ticketed for speeding, reckless driving, or similar and the parents still allow the child use of the car, they may very well answer for expenses resulting from an accident.

Image of a driver with their hands on the steering wheel
Image courtesy of Pexels via Pixabay,

Parental Authority and Family Purpose or Use

Often referred to as the Family Use Doctrine, this concept supports parental liability if an accident occurs while the teen is running an errand for a parent like shopping for milk or picking up the dry cleaning because the teen was driving under the direction of the parent. This may vary depending on where you reside, however it is sufficient that there is proof that the parent controlled the teen’s use of the family automobile. And should your teen detour on the way home, it won’t make a difference if the teen causes the crash.

Assuming Liability

Several states require parents to assume any eventual responsibility for their teens causing crashes the moment that a teen files a driver’s license application. In states like California and Florida, parents are required to sign the driving application.

Insurance Coverage

Some states may require that you have Personal Injury Protection insurance before you can drive. This can be vital when you allow an inexperienced teen driver behind the wheel. Whether your teen is at fault or not, the insurer pays damages if the teen has been added to your coverage and has a valid driver’s license. Depending on the policy PIP may cover lost wages, and any medical expenses incurred.  

Insurance policies in certain states may even pay for damages, pain, and suffering caused by the accident. The principal exception will be if the teen’s driving is identified as criminal.

Can You Get Car Insurance at 17?

Sometimes parents feel that purchasing separate insurance for a teen can save money but remember that teens are considered to be high-risk when behind the wheel, meaning you’re going to spend money because it’s expensive.  Calculate your car insurance costs beforehand.

They also may be under the impression that in this manner they will not be liable for their teen’s accident. Unfortunately, a 17-year-old is still a minor, so a parent or guardian must sign the policy. With that signature the parent becomes liable.

Depending on where you reside, your teen may also not be able to own a car, whether through purchase or ownership transfer. It is important to contact your local Department of Motor Vehicles to receive all necessary information in this regard.

An exciting step toward adulthood – without accidents, hopefully. 

Obtaining a driver’s license is a milestone in the lives of teenagers and parents may view it as an exciting step toward adulthood or with trepidation. One hopes that there will be no accidents, no damages, and most certainly no victims. Parents should, however, realize that they potentially will be liable and on the hook for any type of damage whether personal or to property if their teen is the driver in an automobile accident.  

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