Parental Liability for Car Crashes
By Zac Pingle, Staff Writer
Every parent probably worries about their children when they start driving. You may be worried about whether or not they drive safely when you’re not around and follow the advice you have given them such as no drinking and driving, no texting and driving, etc.
Even though you have done everything you can to ensure that they are responsible drivers, you may be surprised to know that you may be responsible for the damages caused by your child’s car crash. This is called “Parental Liability.”
What is Parental Liability?
Parental liability attempts to place the financial responsibility for property damages and injuries caused by a car crash on the parents of a young driver. Parental liability is defined by state law, meaning that the law will differ depending on where the crash occurs and possibly where you and your child reside.
The risk of parental liability is why parents and legal guardians should have their children covered under their auto insurance policies.
With some exceptions, when a child reaches the “Age of Majority”, in most states his or her parents will no longer be liable for damages caused by the child. The age of majority for civil cases is 18 in every state except:
- Nebraska and Nevada, which both have an age of majority at 19.
- Mississippi and Washington D.C., which both have an age of majority at 21.
- American Samoa and Puerto Rico, which both have an age of majority at 14.
If a child is emancipated from his parents, he will be responsible for any damages that he causes.
How is Parental Liability Proven in Court?
Courts rely on “Common Law” to asses who, and to what degree, a person will be considered liable. This means that the Court will determine a case’s outcome based on previous court cases similar to your own.
You can prove that a child’s parents are liable for a crash that their child caused, by showing that the parents knew (or should have known) that their child was a reckless driver. And you must show that the parents could have (or should have) foreseen that this reckless behavior would lead to a crash.
For example, John Doe is 16 and received his license a few months ago. John has gotten a few speeding tickets since he got his licence. His father, Frank Doe, knows about the tickets but does nothing to stop his son from driving the car. John gets into an accident a few weeks later because he was speeding. John’s father, Frank Doe, may be held liable for damages caused by John’s crash because he knew that his son had a propensity to exceed the speed limit and should have known that his son’s recklessness was likely to lead to a crash.
Other Aspects of Parental Liability
There are many laws and variables that may be considered in a parental liability case. These include:
Family Car Doctrine - The “Family Car Doctrine” provides that the owner of a car is financially responsible for any damages that a family member may have caused while driving the car. However, the Family Car Doctrine only applies if the owner knew and allowed the family member to drive his or her car. So, if the father of a household let his children use his car and one of them caused a crash, the father could be subject to liability for damages caused by the crash. The Family Car Doctrine is used in about 20 states.
Negligent Entrustment - Negligent entrustment is when an owner of a car allows someone that the he or she knew (or should have known) was reckless or impaired to drive a car. This is used in cases when someone allows an intoxicated (or otherwise impaired or reckless) person to operate a car, as well as allowing a reckless teenager to drive. In these instances, the owner will most likely be considered partly liable for the car crash.
If you have been injured by a young driver in a car crash, you may be entitled to compensation. Consult an experienced personal injury attorney to find out if your case in valid.