Are Parents Liable for their Teen’s Car Accident?
Parenting a teenager is challenging but all the more fulfilling. As you watch them grow and experience everything life has to offer, one of the most rewarding times of their life is when they get their driver’s license. However, their lack of experience makes them more likely to getting into a car accident than older drivers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), teen drivers between 16 and 19 are at the highest risk of getting into an accident, at more risk than any other age group.
With this in mind, you may wonder if you as a parent would be held liable should your teen get into a car accident while they were driving. In most cases, the answer is yes, and your car insurance plays a major role in that situation. But parents and guardians may also face additional penalties if their child causes an accident, depending on the state the accident occurred in.
Despite their lack of experience and young age, teenage drivers are held to the same standard of safety as other drivers. Teen drivers share the same “duty of care” as other drivers and motorists, and should that duty be breached, they may face the same penalties should they cause property damage, injury, or even death.
State Laws for Teenage Drivers
Through “vicarious liability,” many states like New Jersey have a version of a law that hold a parent or guardian responsible for the negligent actions of the children, including shoplifting, assault, or others, and this may apply to car accidents as well. This liability normally begins when the child is licensed, as the parent “co-signs” for them and agrees to be held financially responsible. In some cases, where the parent does not have contact or custody with the teen, then “vicarious liability” may not hold a parent liable for damage the teen inflicts.
Other states like California have “statutory liability” laws, which does not see the parent as negligent in anyway, but are still liable for their child’s accident by law. For example, a parent can be held liable for their teenager’s accident if they gave them permission to drive their vehicle and they caused an accident.
Other states require that the parents sign off on their teen driver’s license application, in which case the parent automatically assumes liability should their child cause a car accident.
Negligent Entrustment and Oversight
Some states, including New Jersey, can find a parent liable for their teenager’s car accident if they knew their child was a danger to others while driving. For example, if the parents allowed their child to drive their car even after numerous accidents and little experience, then the parents could be held liable for damages.
Negligent oversight is a bit different, in that it occurs when the parent knows that their child takes their car without permission but allows it to happen anyway. In other words, the parent does not do enough to keep the vehicle away from the child, and should an accident occur, can be held liable.
Car Insurance and Teen Drivers
Car insurance more so covers the policy holder’s vehicle rather than the policy holder themselves, so should your teenager use your car with your permission and gets into an accident, more than likely your insurance will cover them.
However, if you did not give your child permission to drive your car, things may be a bit difficult to have them covered. Normally, if it is a one-time incident, the accident will be covered under parental liability insurance. But if it is an ongoing issue, the parents could be on the hook for the accident too.
Parents may feel that, instead of placing their kid under their insurance policy, they would purchase one for their child alone and perhaps save some money. However, the child is still considered a minor when they are younger than 18, so a parent would still be on the hook for an accident. Some states disallow a teenager to own their own car or have their own insurance policy as well.
No-Fault Insurance in New Jersey
New Jersey, like other states, has a “no-fault” insurance law, meaning all cars registered in New Jersey must have Personal Injury Protection (PIP). It also means that in the event of an accident you would file a claim with your own insurance company, regardless of who is at fault for the accident. This applies to teenage drivers as well. So, if a teenager driver is under a parent’s insurance policy, then the policy should cover the damages, even if the teenager was at fault. There would be no coverage, however, should the teen be performing a criminal act and got into an accident.
What Damages Can a Parent Be Held Liable For?
A driver or passenger that was injured because of a teenage driver can put the driver’s parents or guardian responsible for:
- Medical bills
- Pain and suffering, either mentally or physically, that resulted from the accident and impacts a person’s quality of life
- Property damage, including vehicle damage and related costs.
- Reimbursement for loss of income and any loss of earning capacity.
Some states place a cap on the amount of money a parent must pay should their teenager cause an accident, but even this rule has an exception, like in the event that the teenager acted criminally or the parent knowingly allowed the child to drive with a history of accidents.
If your teenager gets into a car accident, you may have many questions, including who is liable for the damages. More than likely, as a parent, you would have to pay for the damages, or your insurance company. However, car accidents are not always that easy, especially if someone is injured. They require careful attention to details and a reputable car accident lawyer to help navigate the claim and protect your rights.
The Car Accident Lawyers in Highland Park at the Law Offices of Harold J. Gerr Help Families and Teenage Drivers
If your teenager got into a car accident, you may have questions concerning how to handle it and what to do next. Call our car accident lawyers in Highland Park at the Law Offices of Harold J. Gerr right away. Our skilled and knowledgeable team has years of experience with cases like these and will gladly help protect the rights of you and your family. Call us today at 877-249-4600 or 732-537-8570, or fill out our online form for a free consultation. With our office located in Highland Park, New Jersey, we proudly serve all communities of New Brunswick, Somerset, Piscataway, Edison, South River, Sayreville, Metuchen, East Brunswick, South Plainfield, Fords, Middlesex, Old Bridge, Iselin, Bound Brook, Perth Amboy, and Colonia.