Are Parents Liable When Their Teenager Causes a Car Accident?
By Chad Rankin, Car Accident Attorney
Are we parents responsible for the mistakes of our teenagers when driving on the roads of Lancaster County? Many of us have, or will soon have, driving teenagers. We all realize how unprepared most of them are to handle the responsibility of safely operating a vehicle. We will talk to them about distracted driving and give them tips about how to drive. However, like many other skills in life, they typically do not want to learn them from their parents.
Unfortunately, the most dangerous people on the road are drivers between the ages of 16-20. They are 3 times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash and account for a high percentage of car accidents overall. The following link provides a thorough look at the car accident statistics for Pennsylvania; including those for teenagers.
So are parents responsible for the mistakes of our teenage drivers? As with many legal questions, the answer is not black or white. Frankly, that is why you hire a good attorney when you have a legal issue. I had a case where we brought a lawsuit against the teenage driver and one of her parents who owned the car. We pursued a legal theory known as negligent entrustment against the parent. Simply put, negligent entrustment is when someone should not allow another to use a dangerous thing, but they do anyway and someone gets hurt as a result of a negligent or improper use of that thing. If you know that someone in inexperienced with guns, you would not hand them a loaded gun. If someone was intoxicated, you should not hand them the keys to your car.
Our research in this particular case revealed that the child had been in a handful of accidents already; including accidents where traffic and/or criminal charges were filed against the child for distracted driving. This kid could not stay off of her phone while driving. When the parent testified, they acknowledged knowing about the prior accidents and the prior problems their child had with distracted driving. They admitted to never punishing the child or even restricting their driving privileges. Despite this knowledge, the parent continued to let their child use the parent’s car. This case settled before I could make an example of this parent; namely because the money offered was too much to walk away from for my clients. However, this parent was going to be in serious trouble had the case not settled.
So what can we do as parents to avoid becoming personally responsible if our teenager causes a car accident? If you have reason to know that your child is likely going to cause an accident, you should not entrust them with your vehicle. Does that mean that you should not allow your child to drive your vehicle at all because the statistics show that teenagers are more likely to cause an accident? No, that would be unreasonable. Your actions will be judged by what a reasonable person would do under those circumstances. If you took reasonable steps to ensure that your child safely operates your vehicle, then you will be fine. You will not be personally responsible for the actions of your child if they cause an accident. Your automobile insurance policy should pay the claim and, if necessary, provide a defense for your child. If your child is in an accident it is important they know what to do. You can learn more in our article Things You Should Do After a Car Accident or on our Car Accidents webpage.
If you have any questions on this article or need help with a car accident, call Lancaster County attorney Chad Rankin at RG Injury law for a free consultation. Chad Rankin is a car accident lawyer who has been practicing personal injury for 16 years. He is a Partner at Rankin & Gregory in Lancaster County, PA. Rankin & Gregory, LLC 2173 Embassy Drive Lancaster, PA 17603