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Can Parents be Held Liable for a Crash Caused by Their Teenage Child?

female driver smiling at the wheelTeenage drivers cause a lot of auto accidents each year, and not just because they often engage in extremely reckless behavior, like texting or posting to social media while they are behind the wheel. Teenagers are inexperienced and do not always make the best decisions because of that lack of experience.

When a teenager causes a crash, it raises questions about responsibility for damages. Can the parent(s) of the teenage driver be held liable for damages?

The answer to this question is often yes, although there may be situations when the answer is no. That is why victims of these crashes should seek experienced legal representation. The attorneys from Schmidt Kramer are available to assist you in seeking full compensation for your damages.

Vicarious Liability and Teen Driver Accidents

This is a legal concept that says responsibility for an injury may extend beyond the person who caused the injury to another party who had authority over the person who caused the injury. This concept often comes up in cases involving employees, as their employers may be vicariously liable for their actions.

In a car crash case, responsibility for an injury may extend to the parents of the driver or the owner of the vehicle. As teenagers are often driving cars owned by their parents, the concept of vicarious liability could easily apply if a teenager causes an accident.

Under Pennsylvania statute (23 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5502, when a child is found liable or guilty of a “tortious act” by a “court of competent jurisdiction,” the child’s parent will be liable to the victim. The law says the parent can be held liable up to $1,000 per injured person or as much as $2,500 per crash.

Negligent Entrustment

It may be difficult to hold parents liable if they can show their child had proven to be a responsible driver. Vicarious liability may be difficult to prove if you cannot show it was negligent to allow the child to drive.

If a parent or parents allowed a teenager to drive after showing a pattern of negligent behavior, there may be a strong argument the parents should not have allowed the teenager to drive their car. A pattern of negligent behavior could include things like:

  • Texting and driving
  • Speeding
  • Tailgating

If the parents do not punish the child, restrict their driving privileges or restrict use of their car, the parents could be considered negligent.

When it comes to determining if someone was negligent, the test is what a reasonable person would do. It may be considered unreasonable to allow a teenager with a pattern of reckless driving to continue driving your car.

However, if the child’s parents limited his or her driving, instructed the child not to use a smartphone while driving, and punished the child for breaking their rules, it may be difficult to prove negligent entrustment.

Even if a parent does restrict a child’s driving privileges and tells him or her not to drive the car, questions may arise about whether the child had access to the keys. For example, what if a mother or father tells a teenager not to drive before the parent leaves the house, but the teenager knows where the keys are, and the parent knows the child knows?

Even though the child did not have verbal permission to drive, the fact he or she knew where the keys were could shift liability for a crash onto the parent. It could be argued the child had permission because it was too easy to get a hold of the keys. Maybe the parents needed to do more to prevent the teenager from getting the keys.

How do Pennsylvania’s No-Fault Laws Affect Liability?

Even though the victim may have a claim against the parents, Pennsylvania is a no-fault state. That means crash victims often recover compensation from their own insurance policies.

However, if the crash causes serious injuries and damages, the value of the claim could exceed the victim’s personal injury protection (PIP) insurance. If that happens, the victim may be able to file a third-party claim against the insurance policy on the car. As teenagers are often on their parents’ insurance, the third-party claim would likely be against the parent’s insurance policy.

Most cases are not resolved through lawsuits. However, the victim may have a valid claim against the teenage driver’s parents.

It is important to note the type of insurance policy the victim purchased affects his or her ability to file a lawsuit. If you buy a limited tort policy, you can only sue if you suffered serious impairment of a bodily function, permanent disfigurement or death. A full tort policy does not limit your ability to file a lawsuit after a car crash.

As these cases are complex, it is important to hire an experienced attorney to help you seek compensation.

Call to Set Up a Free Legal Consultation

Despite your best efforts, you could get into a crash with a negligent driver. Sometimes there is just no way to avoid it.

When something like this happens, talking to an experienced lawyer can be an important step as you consider what to do next. At Schmidt Kramer, our Harrisburg-based vehicle crash lawyers we have been helping crash victims for decades and have recovered millions on their behalf.

There is no risk in calling us because there are no upfront fees, and you are not obligated to hire our firm if we determine you have a valid claim.

Call today to discuss your crash. Phone: (717) 727-1837.