If a teen driver causes a car accident who is legally liable for the damages? Are they responsible for their own actions or are their parents?
About Liability When Teenagers Cause Car Accidents
If you’re like most parents, you’re terrified when your teen gets behind the wheel on their own for the first time. And rightfully so. Anecdotal evidence and reliable statistical studies show that teens get in car accidents at high rates.
According to a study by the CDC, 2,650 teens ages 16-19 were killed – and 292,000 were treated in emergency rooms for injuries suffered in car crashes in 2011. People 15-25 make up 14% of the US’s population, but account for nearly 30% of the costs of crashes annually.
So, let’s say your teenager causes an motor vehicle accident. Who’s negligent and legally liable for the damages they cause?
Here are some scenarios that may apply:
- Parents are Liable Because of the “Family Purpose Doctrine”
Say your teen sneaks out on New Year’s Eve to go out to a drinking party with their friends. They steal your car to make it happen.
You’ve already banned them from taking the car for several months because of previous incidents.
Are you liable if they cause a wreck? Yes, and that’s according to the “Family Purpose Doctrine,” which makes you the head of the household. Under that doctrine, you are assumed to be exercising authority over your teen, just like a boss over his employees.
If you know you have a defiant, reckless teen who might try to steal your car, hide the keys or lock them in a safe. Seriously!
- Does Putting Your Teen’s Name on All Documentation Remove Your Legal Liability?
Some parents put the car, registration, and insurance in their teen’s name. With adults, doing this in any area of life generally removes the responsibility or liability.
Does that work for teens? Not until they turn 18.
- What if Your Teen Crashes Your Car After You Let them Use It?
Say your teen takes your car out with your permission. They get into a minor wreck.
You are responsible for these damages too. And if your teen has been in a couple accidents before, it’s even more likely you’re held liable for “negligent entrustment” of your “family car” to your teen.
- What if Your Teen Crashes a Friend’s Car?
Say your teen’s friend is the first of the two to have their own car. The friend lets your teen drive the car, and your teen smashes it up.
Who’s responsible? This time it’s not your teen. Under “vicarious liability,” the car’s owner has legal responsibility.
- What if Your Uninsured Teen Causes a Crash?
This situation gets a little murky. Most likely, the other driver has uninsured motorist coverage.
However, in the case of uninsured drivers, the injured driver can sue any party they want to collect damages. They can go after your teen, or you.
At the end of the day, remember it’s most likely you who’s going to be financially and legally responsible for any crashes or injuries your teen causes.
And if your teen’s completely out of control, do everything in your power to keep the keys out of their hands.
If you need an attorney, contact us today for a free consultation.
Shane V. Mullen is an attorney licensed by the State of Texas for the general practice of law, and the Managing Partner at Mullen & Mullen Law Firm in Dallas, TX. His firm focuses exclusively on personal injury law and has been in business for 40 years (since 1983). Before becoming a lawyer, Shane worked for his father as an accident injury claims investigator.