Am I Liable For a Car Accident Caused By My Child in 2024?

Learning to drive is for many people a kind of right of passage that signals our entry into adulthood and independence. However, while we all like to see our kids grow up and become their own people, it is no secret that younger, more inexperienced drivers are statistically at a much higher risk of being involved in a road traffic accident than any other demographic. Insurance companies are well aware of this fact and adjust their insurance rates accordingly.

In the first few months after your teenager gains their driving license, you are likely to experience a few anxious moments as you worry about their safety on the road. But this is not the only reason that you should be concerned. According to the car accident lawyers at Reyes Browne Reilley Law Firm in Dallas,TX have provided important information regarding a parents liability when their child is involved in a car accident. Most parents are unaware of their accountability, even if they were not present in the vehicle at the time of the incident.

The most important and widely-used legal concepts used to determine who is at fault in a road traffic accident is negligence. By law, all drivers are required to conduct themselves in a way that does not put others at risk. In cases where a driver is found not to be driving in a safe and responsible manner, they become legally liable for the damages, including medical bills, loss of earnings, vehicle damage and other costs, that result from the accident.

While drivers are considered to be sovereign actors in most cases, there are certain circumstances where parental liability can come into play. In general, parental liability for an accident caused by the negligent driving of their teenager or child will legally come into play in one of three ways.

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Vicarious Liability

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The law on vicarious liability dictates that the principal (in this case, that parent) is legally responsible for the negligent actions of the agent (the teenage driver) in cases where the agent is acting in a way that is subject to the authority and direction of the principal.

For example, a parent may be deemed vicariously liable for the negligent driving of a child who is sent out in their car to perform errands for the parent, such as picking something up from the store dropping a parcel off at the post office. In legal terminology, a parent can be held responsible for any accident caused by their child if it can be proved that the child was engaged in the pursuits of a family “purpose” or “use”. This purpose can stretch to almost anything, so long as the teen’s use of the vehicle is under the control of the parent.

Indeed, a parent may be held vicariously responsible even if the child did not even visit the store and happened to instead be taking a pleasure trip around the neighborhood when they caused the accident.

Negligent Entrustment

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This section of the law is designed to attribute culpability to parents who knowingly let their child get behind the wheel of a car when it is obvious that they may pose an accident risk.

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For instance, let us take the fictional example of a teen driver by the name of Shawn. Shawn’s parents are aware that, despite being the legal holder of a valid driver’s license, Shawn poses a significant risk of causing an accident. He has been involved in several minor accidents in the last year and has also been stopped by the highway patrol for reckless driving. Even though Shawn’s parents are concerned that he is clearly an inexperienced and bad driver, they nonetheless allow him to borrow the family vehicle to take a trip across the country with some friends to visit some cities that are known for their reputation as party destinations.

Now, let us say that Shawn ends up getting into an accident which he is deemed to be at fault for. Under laws surrounding legal entrustment, Shawn’s parents may be liable for any resulting damages.

Driving Privilege Application

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In a small number of states, including Florida and California, the law states that the parents of new drivers under the age of 18 are assumed liable in the event that their child causes a road traffic accident. The parents enter into this agreement knowingly when they sponsor their child’s driver’s license application. Once the child reaches the age of majority, their parents cease to be liable for their behavior on the road.

Failure to Supervise

Parents are also considered liable for any crash that is found to be a result of a failure to supervise a child who assumes control of a vehicle without a license or below the legal age that is required to drive. In such cases, it must be provable that an accident has been caused as a foreseeable consequence of the parent or caregiver’s failure to keep control of their child. An example of this may be when a parent leaves their child unattended in a started car, and the child drives the car into the vehicle in front.

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What Should I Do If My Child Causes an Accident and I Am Deemed Liable

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The first thing that you should do in any of the situations mentioned in the sections above is to search out the services of an attorney who has a proven record in aiding defendants in road traffic accidents. A lawyer will be able to offer you advice on your rights as a parent as well as laying out all the legal avenues that are available to you in your particular situation.

Should you choose to hire a lawyer, they will quickly move to gather evidence which supports your case, including witness interviews and expert testimonies. They will also be able to use their experience and judgment to negotiate with insurance companies to help you reach a favorable settlement. If no settlement is possible, the lawyer will represent you in court, which is not advisable to attempt without professional help.

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