Who is Liable if Your Teen Driver Causes an Accident?
There is always a safety concern when a teenager is behind the wheel of a car. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), teenage drivers between the ages of 16 and 19 are more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than those ages 20 years or older. The CDC also reports that motor vehicle crashes are the second leading cause of teen deaths in America.
Crash statistics from the CDC show that teen drivers are at a particularly high risk of being involved in an accident in the first few months of getting a license. Lack of experience is one of the main factors for when a teen driver causes an accident. Novice drivers are more likely to make critical errors when driving.
Drunk driving is also one of the factors for teen car accidents. According to the 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 15% of drivers aged 15 to 20 years were involved in fatal car accidents and were found to be drunk-driving over the legal limit, with blood alcohol concentrations of 0.08% or higher. The use of illegal drugs has also been found to be one of the leading causes of teenage car accidents.
Of these numbers, the death rate for male drivers was two times higher than that of female drivers. In the same report, the likelihood of driving accidents is increased when there are unsupervised teenage passengers in the vehicle.
There are obvious safety concerns when a teenager is behind the wheel. So whenever a teen gets in an accident, you might ask yourself if you could also be held liable for it as the parent or guardian, even if you weren’t the one driving. The answer is YES. However, liability is dependent on the situation and the nature of the motor vehicle accident, as well as the location where the accident took place.
There are some legal theories and factors we have to consider in the unfortunate event of a teenage driving accident.
Legal Theories to Consider About Parental Liability in Case of an Accident
Whenever we talk about fault in a vehicular accident, the police, insurance companies, and legal advisors mention negligence. The theory of negligence states that an individual has a duty and responsibility to practice safe driving. If a driver fails that duty and someone sustains injuries, the negligent driver that caused the accident can be held liable for the vehicle damage and injuries to all parties involved.
The theory of negligence applies to everyone that gets behind a wheel. Driver inexperience does not matter when talking about the concept of negligence in a teen driving accident.
3 Ways Parental Liability is Created
There are some situations where the parents or older drivers could also be held liable for the damages when a teen driver causes an accident. While the way parental liability is determined depends on particular circumstances of the accident, as well as the state where it happened, there are three ways parental liability is created.
1. Negligent Entrustment
In this legal theory, if the parent knew or should have known that the teenage driver was a danger to others and themselves on the road, parents can be held liable for an accident.
This could happen if, for example, your son had just gotten his driver’s license a year or so ago. He has been in four accidents since he got his license and has been ticketed twice for a series of traffic violations, such as speeding and reckless driving. You agree to let him borrow the family car for a road trip with his high school friends.
Suppose that your son caused an accident at an intersection. Because of his previous history of risky driving behaviors, you can be potentially held liable for any damages resulting from the accident under the negligent entrustment theory.
2. Vicarious Liability
This legal theory states that the parents (the principal) can be held liable for any damages caused by their teen driver (the agent) if said agent is acting under the direction and authority of the principal. Depending on the jurisdiction, this theory can be called “family use” or “family purpose.”
To exemplify this, we can use a scenario where you, as a parent, ask your daughter to make a quick run to the grocery store to get some necessities for a cookout you are planning on the weekend. You can be held responsible if your daughter decides to go around the neighborhood to pick up a friend instead of going directly to the store and gets in an accident or if your teen causes an accident due to distracted driving.
3. Driving Privilege Application
There are a few states, like California and Florida, that require the parents of a new teen driver to assume their child’s liability if their child is responsible for causing a car accident. Usually, the parents will agree to this when they sign their children’s driver’s license application.
Considerations and Exceptions Regarding Parental Liability
While the previously mentioned legal theories might seem that no matter the circumstance, you will be held liable as a parent if your children cause a car accident, there are some factors to consider regarding parental liability when a teen driver causes an accident.
- The parents will not be held liable if they don’t have legal custody of the child when the accident happens.
- Normally, parents won’t be held liable for their teen driver once they reach the age of majority, and the vehicle is legally owned by the said teen driver.
- As long as the teen driver has a driver’s license and the parents properly added their child to their car insurance policy, it would not matter who has legal liability from a financial perspective.
The only exception to the parental liability rule, both from a legal and insurance perspective, is if the teen driver did not behave negligently but acted criminally. All insurance policies will exclude coverage for criminal acts of the insured party. The same exemption would apply regarding legal matters of the accident had the teen behaved criminally and caused an accident — their parents won’t be held liable in court for their child’s behavior.
Teen Driver Caused An Accident? Farahi Law Firm Can Help You
Both an adult driver and a novice driver need to practice safe driving habits. Finding your teen driver involved in an accident can be stressful for you as a parent, but even though the other party might want to blame you for it and take advantage of your child’s lack of driving experience, at Farahi Law Firm, our car accident attorneys will help you get the justice your child deserves.
We will not let you or your child be held responsible for an act you didn’t commit, and we’ll fight hard for you to get the maximum compensation possible for all the troubles caused by a negligent driver. The best part is that you don’t need to pay us a cent! No fees until we win!