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Is a Parent Liable for a Child’s Car Accident?

teenager on phone after car accident

As a parent, it is natural to worry about your children – especially when they start driving. You may be concerned about their safety on the road and whether or not they will get into an accident. If your teenager does cause an accident, you may be wondering if you are liable.

The answer to this question depends on several factors. In some cases, parents may be held liable for their teenager's car accident under the family purpose doctrine.

What is the Family Purpose Doctrine?

The family purpose doctrine is a legal theory that holds car owners responsible for the negligent actions of a family or household member. In order for someone to be held liable under this doctrine, the following four elements must be proven:

  1. The potentially liable party had control over the vehicle. "Control," in this sense, means that the owner of the vehicle is active in the day-to-day use and maintenance of the vehicle (i.e., car payments, repair costs, regular possession of the keys, etc.)
  2. The vehicle is used for the general purposes of the family. The vehicle must be used for general family purposes like grocery shopping, family outings, or school events. Once established that the vehicle is intended for general family use, it does not matter what purpose the car was intended for at the time of the accident.
  3. The driver had express or implied consent from the car owner. Express consent means that the owner knew and approved of the driver's use of the vehicle, while implied consent means that the owner could have reasonably expected and consented to the driver's use of the vehicle.
  4. The vehicle's driver is either a family member or a household member. Although it's called the "Family" Purpose Doctrine, the at-fault driver does not actually have to be related to the owner of the vehicle (as long as they live in the household).

If all of these elements are present, then the owner of a vehicle may be held liable for any damages caused by their teenager's car accident. This includes property damage, injuries, and even wrongful death. Of course, the injured party is responsible for proving these elements, which can be quite challenging without the help of an experienced car accident attorney.

The Theory of Vicarious Liability

The family purpose doctrine is based on the legal theory of vicarious liability. Vicarious liability is when one person (the "vicariously liable" party) is held responsible for the actions of another person. Vicarious liability is generally used in car accident claims where the at-fault driver is operating a vehicle on behalf of their employer.

Negligent Entrustment

Another legal theory that may be used to hold a parent liable for their teenager's car accident is negligent entrustment. Negligent entrustment occurs when the owner of a vehicle gives another person permission to drive, even though they know (or should know) that the driver is not competent or capable. For example, if a parent gives their teenage daughter the keys to the car knowing that she does not have a valid driver's license, they could be held liable for any damages caused by her.

If you were involved in an accident caused by a negligent driver, call us today at (919) 887-7892 or fill out our form online for a free consultation!

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