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Are Parents Liable for Children’s Car Accidents?

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Any accident involving a child is a traumatizing experience for everyone involved, and these types of accidents can happen anywhere at any time. Even children shopping cart injuries are surprisingly common with long-term health impacts. In the case of a car accident with children our minds immediately jump to the worst-case scenario while the parents are left struggling with the shock, trauma and expensive medical bills that may follow. But what happens when a child is the cause of the accident – are parents liable for children’s car accidents?

The age of majority, where a person is legally considered an adult, across most of the United States is 18 years. However, a 16-year-old can legally drive a car with a valid driver’s license. In some instances, a driver’s license hasn’t stopped kids from “borrowing” their parents’ car and going for a joy ride. So, what happens if there’s an accident? The answer isn’t as straightforward as you think, and may require the legal counsel of an experienced law firm like Avrek Law.

Vicarious Liability and Car Accidents Involving Minors

Car crashes involving teenagers have always been a common problem throughout the United States. However, past studies by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found that since 1996 accidents involving teenagers as young as 16-years-old declined by 53%, despite their crash rate (per mile driven) being nearly four times higher compared to drivers 20 and older.

Who is ultimately responsible when a minor causes a car accident? According to the California Vehicle Code Section 17707, the person who signed and verified the new driver application is “jointly and severally liable with the minor for any damages….” This is referred to as vicarious liability. It may also apply to instances where the owner of the vehicle can be solely or partly held liable for injuries and damages sustained in a car accident even if they weren’t behind the wheel. In some cases, however, the minor (or minors) involved can also be held liable.

One legal case that addressed the question of can a passenger be liable for a car accident involved a teenager who died after a joy ride got out of control. The tragic story started when a group of 14-year-old high school students stole a parent’s car and went for a drive. The illegal and inexperienced driver lost control, killing one of their friends. In this case the argument was made that all of the teenagers — including the one who died — should share liability for the death, injury and property damage as they were all acting in a conspiracy to commit the crime. Due to the fact that the car was considered stolen, the parents who owned the vehicle could make the argument that vicarious liability should not apply as they did not give permission for their child to drive the car.

Teen arguing with adult after car accident - are parents liable for childrens car accidents?

The Ongoing Problem with Distracted Driving Teens

Although being hit by a drunk driver is still one of the most common causes of car accidents, distracted driving among teenagers is quickly becoming all too common. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 19% of fatal car accidents caused by drivers ages 15 to 18 had a positive blood alcohol level, despite the legal drinking age being 21. The NHTSA also found that texting while driving increases the risk of getting into an accident by 23 times.

The trouble with distracted driving is that it doesn’t just include talking or texting while driving. Everything from drinking coffee, eating a hamburger, talking with other passengers or changing the music requires people to divert their attention from the road. Even though five-seconds doesn’t seem like a long time, it’s all that’s needed to cause a fatal car accident.

California’s driving laws, for example, are quickly catching-up to cultural trends around phone usage to help deter distracted driving. In 2021, Assembly Bill 47, was passed to increase the penalty of drivers who were not paying attention while behind the wheel. Today, if drivers are caught using their phones while driving, they will face a fine for the first-time offense, and the second offence (within 36 months) will add one point to their driving record. Driving laws were also updated limiting where phones are allowed to be placed within the vehicle.

Find a Lawyer That Knows How the Law Applies to Minors

Anytime a child is involved in an accident it’s important to understand that both the child and the parents (or legal guardians) have the right to get justice in a court of law. Even something that seems trivial like a playground injury lawsuit can come with a large settlement due to the long-term health impacts that could negatively affect a child’s future.

If you’re left wondering, “Are parents liable for children’s car accidents?” or “What are my options if I’m injured by a minor driving a vehicle?” – contact an experienced car accident injury attorney like Avrek Law immediately. Avrek has more than 50 years combined experience representing cases in several states (view one of their locations nearest you) like car accidents involving minors. The consultation is free and you’ll get advice from a law firm with more than $1 billion recovered in more than 45,000 cases.

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