It’s every parent’s worst nightmare to have their teen involved in a serious car accident. No one wants to lose a child in a terrible car crash. Every year in Washington State, teen drivers are involved in thousands of accidents; some caused by teenage drivers and some not. Sadly, many teens lose their lives in car accidents each year and others are seriously injured with lasting or permanent injuries.
As car accident lawyers, we get calls from parents wondering how they can file a car accident claim on behalf of their injured child and about parental liability for teen accidents when their teen driver causes a car accident.
Parental Liability for Teen Accidents
There are a few legal theories that explain why parents may be liable for their teen driver’s accident.
In Washington, drivers or vehicle owners may be liable for an accident if they lend their vehicle to an incompetent, reckless, or unfit driver. If the parent knew or should have known that their teen is a danger to others on the road because they have multiple tickets or their license is suspended, for example, and failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the teen from driving or otherwise reduce the risk of harm, the parent who lent the vehicle may be liable for the damages resulting from the collision.
Under the “Family Car Doctrine” in Washington State, a parent or other family member can be held legally responsible for the injuries, property damage, and other losses that arise from a car accident that was caused by another family member (typically a teen driver). Under this theory, parents can be liable if their teen driver causes a car accident while taking care of any family “purpose” or “use.” The purpose can be just about anything; what’s relevant is that the parent had control over the teen driver’s use of the vehicle. A good example is if a parent asks a teen driver to run an errand or pick their little brother or sister up from school with their vehicle.
Can I be liable for an accident if my teenage child drove my car without my permission?
Yes, under both vicarious liability and negligent entrustment laws, a parent or guardian can be held liable for a teen driver’s car accident, whether or not the minor child had permission to drive the car. It is a parent’s job to keep car keys away from teen drivers who are likely to cause an accident.
Will my car insurance cover my teen driver’s car accident?
Yes, in most circumstances your car insurance policy will cover your teen driver’s accident up to the policy limits as long as:
- The teen driver has a current driver’s license and
- the parents have properly added their child to their car insurance policy, and
- there are adequate policy limits in place.
One exception to this rule is if the teen driver’s actions leading to the accident were criminal, not negligent. Car insurance policies will not provide coverage for any claim resulting from the criminal act of an insured.
Can I be sued for an accident caused by my teenage child?
Yes, a parent or guardian can be sued for an accident caused by their child. The best thing a parent can do to protect themselves when they have teen drivers is purchase a car insurance policy with high liability coverage. Auto insurance experts generally recommend choosing liability coverage of at least 100/300/100. This equals $100,000 in body injury liability insurance per person, $300,000 in bodily injury liability per accident, and $100,000 in property damage liability per accident.
Seek the help of a car accident lawyer
If you or a loved one was injured in a collision because of the negligence of another, contact a personal injury lawyer to discuss your legal rights. Let an experienced car accident attorney fight for the full compensation that you deserve. It is not uncommon to receive a settlement from the insurance company that is five to ten times larger with the help of a lawyer. Call the personal injury lawyers at Tario & Associates, P.S. in Bellingham, WA today for a FREE consultation! We have been representing residents of Whatcom County, Skagit County, Island County and Snohomish County since 1979. You will pay nothing up front and no attorney fees at all unless we recover damages for you!