Are Parents Liable for Their Child’s Car Accident?

Last updated on: September 6, 2022

While driving is a big step towards independence, teenage drivers are far more likely to get into accidents than adult drivers. Because of this, it’s important to be aware of your legal responsibilities when your teenage child begins driving. Depending on the state you are in and the circumstances, you might be liable for your child’s car accident.  

Are Parents Liable for Car Accidents Caused by Their Child?

In some states, it is possible to be sued for a car accident caused by your child. States such as Florida and California hold parents or guardians liable for the damages their minor children cause through negligence while driving. This liability is accepted by the parent when signing their minor child’s license or permit application. 

In many other states, the family purpose doctrine is applied to various degrees. The family purpose doctrine is the idea that if a household keeps a vehicle for the family’s general use and enjoyment, the head of the family is liable for damages incurred while a family member uses the vehicle for “family purposes.” This holds the individual who controls who is allowed to use the car liable for the actions of those they allow to use the car. 

In some states, a “family purpose” is seen as a purpose that serves the family somehow, and doesn’t extend to any time a child uses the car. An example of a “family purpose” might be to pick up groceries at a parent’s request. However, other courts interpret “family purpose” as any time a child is allowed by a parent to use a family vehicle, regardless of whether the child was acting under the direction of his family or not.  

What If Your Child Drove Without Your Permission?

If your child defied you by driving and got into an accident, it is still possible to be held liable—but it depends on state law, and what you mean by driving without permission. 

If your child had permission to use the car but didn’t have permission to use the car in the way he was using it, it will probably be the fact that he was allowed to use the vehicle in the first place that the court will take into consideration. 

If your child wasn’t supposed to be driving the car in the first place, then it can be argued you were not providing a vehicle for him to use. In some states, such as Texas, a child must be directly entrusted with the vehicle for family purposes to apply, and implied permission isn’t enough. 

Can Parents Be Sued for a Car Accident Caused by Their Child?

The family purpose doctrine is applied differently in different states, and can impact whether or not parents can be sued for their children’s car accidents. In Texas, the court rejected the family purpose doctrine in the cases of Tice v. Bridgewater and Jones v. Hopper

In those cases, the courts ruled that a parent could be liable if their child was acting as an agent for them, such as running an errand. The parent could not be sued if the child had use of a family vehicle for general enjoyment. 

In the case of Jones v. Hopper, for example, the child driver had taken the family car without asking permission from her father and did not have her own set of keys. In Texas, a parent can still be held liable for the actions of a child driver, but only if the child driver is unlicensed or known to drive recklessly, which can be difficult to prove.

In contrast, the Arizona court in the case of Young v. Beck applied the family purpose doctrine to extend to even a use of the family vehicle that the teenage driver’s parents did not condone. The child driver in that case was not allowed to drive to pick up his friends—he was only allowed to use the car to drive to school. 

He got into an accident on the way to pick up his friend, using the car impermissibly. However, the court still found that the family purpose doctrine applied because the child had permission to drive the car, even though he did not have permission for his specific use. 

What To Do When Your Child Causes a Car Accident?

When your teenage child causes a car accident, the most important thing is ensuring the safety of everyone involved. 

Get to a safe place. 

Be sure that everyone involved in the accident is in a safe location and out of the way of roadside traffic or other hazards. 

Call 911, the police, and anyone else who must be notified.

If anyone is injured, call 911 or direct someone at the scene to do so. Even if no one is injured, call the police. 

If there were unrelated children in the car with your child, contact their parents or guardians to let them know what has happened and where you are. File a police report when the police arrive. 

Exchange insurance information. 

Make sure all parties have exchanged insurance information. 

Be careful what you say.

Your child should refrain from arguing or assigning or accepting blame for the accident, and never sign anything that isn’t from the police. 

Document the situation. 

Be sure to document any damage or circumstances of the accident, and obtain a copy of the police report. 

Figure out your legal options. 

Consult with a personal injury attorney in order to learn your legal options and what next steps you can take for your case.

Need Help? Contact Zinda Law Group Today

The laws surrounding parental liability for teenage drivers are complicated. Even in states which recognize the family purpose doctrine, various jurisdictions apply it differently. This is why you should have an experienced car accident attorney who can help you understand your legal options. 

The car accident attorneys at Zinda Law Group can help evaluate your situation and any potential liability after your child causes a car accident. Call 800-863-5312 for a free consultation with Zinda Law Group car accident lawyers today. 

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