Are Parents Liable for Their Children’s Car Accidents?

Your eldest child got her driver’s license, and then she got into a car wreck. Fortunately, no one was severely injured, but she was at fault for the accident. Now the question is, are you, as her parents liable for the damages she caused?

Parents can be financially responsible for damages caused by their children who are at fault in causing a car accident. Parental liability differs by state, but the general theories of liability for parents are negligent entrustment, vicarious liability, and driving privilege application laws.

The facts and laws are pivotal in determining a parents liability for the damages caused by their child’s negligent driving,

Theories of Parental Liability for a Childs Car Wreck

Teenage drivers are the highest risk drivers for causing and being involved in car wrecks. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, car crashes are the leading cause of death for teens ages 16-19. Yes, your child’s welfare is a concern, but let’s examine when you can be held liable, even when you weren’t in the car.

Vicarious Liability for a Child’s Negligence

Vicarious liability is a legal doctrine establishing the responsibility of a person who had the right, ability, or duty to control the actions of another person.

Vicarious liability is based on a relationship with the person who caused the injury. Parents must responsibly supervise and educate their children. The relationship between parent and child establishes responsibility and vicarious liability applies.

Some states impose parental liability by statute for a child’s intentional or negligent acts and also limit their monetary liability. States will have different laws concerning vicarious liability. For this reason, it’s imperative to check the laws where the accident occurred.

Parents Vicarious Liability in Louisiana

In Louisiana, a parent can be held responsible for the damages caused by their unemancipated minor child. Louisiana Civil Code article 2318 codifies the vicarious liability of parents for a minor child.

It establishes that unless a minor has been emancipated either through a legal judgment or marriage, parents are responsible for any damages caused by their minor children.

Parents remain liable even if the child is placed under the care of another person and does not reside with them. However, the parent may reserve the right to proceed against the party caring for the minor.

Parents Vicarious Liability in California

Under California law a parent is vicariously liable for the damages caused by their minor child in three circumstances: 1) When their child’s willful misconduct results in injury,

  • When their child’s willful misconduct results in an injury;
  • When their child’s negligent driving resulted in a car accident; 9. CIVIL LIABILITY [17000 – 17714]
  • When a child causes an injury when using a firearm, the parent allowed the child to use it.

Under Californias, vicarious liability statute parents’ exposure is limited to up to $25,000 for their child’s willful misconduct. To be liable, the child’s action has to result in injury or death to another person or property, and pain and suffering are not recoverable. Californian Civil Code 1714.1

Parents Vicarious Liability in Texas

The state of Texas established civil liability on “a parent or other person who has the duty of control and reasonable discipline of a child.” Texas statute 41.001.

The statute caps damages to $25,000 of actual damages, so there is no recovery for pain and suffering or other general damages. It also limits the ages of children it covers from 10 to 18 years of age.

Statute 41.001 is not the end-all. Aggrieved parties may still file a civil suit against parents if they can show the child had a propensity for bad behavior, and the parents were aware of it.

Parents’ have a “duty of care” to prevent their child from causing foreseeable harm, such as joyriding and crashing a neighbor’s car. Parents that breach their duty of care are liable for the damages caused by their breach.

Parents Negligent Entrustment of a Vehicle to Their Child

A parent can be liable under the theory of negligent entrustment if they knew or should have known the child was not able to operate the vehicle safely but allowed the child to drive anyways. The elements to establish a negligent entrustment claim are:

  • The vehicle owner knowingly allowed the driver to take his vehicle;
  • The driver was reckless, incompetent and/or unlicensed;
  • The vehicle owner knew or should have known the driver was reckless, incompetent and/or unlicensed;
  • The conduct of the driver was negligent, and a cause of the accident and the negligence was the proximate cause of the crash

For example, a parent knows his child is drunk, gives him the keys to his car. The child loses control of his vehicle because he is intoxicated and causes an automobile accident.

Parental Liability Under Driving Privilege Application

Some states require parents to assume the liability of their minor children in the application for a driver’s license. This is true for California and Florida. California Vehicle Code 17707 VC imposes liability on the person signing the minor application for a driver’s license.

What to do When your Teenager has a Car Accident

Your daughter just called you and let you know she has been in a car accident. After you check to make sure she is alright, what do you do next? Try to talk to her calmly and ensure her everything will be ok.

Accidents can rattle adults but it is especially difficult for young drivers. Stress, panic, and anger will lead to more problems, so everyone needs to stay calm. Ask her to check on anyone who may be injured.

After she has checked that everyone is stable, and tell her to put on her hazard lights. Next, ask her to call 911 and give a detailed description of her location. She needs to ensure they know where she is before she gets off the phone.

Tell her not to speak to anyone other than the officer about the facts of the accident. Instruct her to not apologize or say, this was all my fault. Advise her to stay in the car until the police arrive. Her safety is the primary concern.

You need to go to the scene of the accident. Once there, exchange information with the other driver and get the name and agency information of the investigating officer. You will need this information to request a copy of the accident report.

Write down the name and address of any witnesses. Take notes about the witnesses and what they said to you at the scene. Take photos of the vehicles and the location of the accident. Also, take a picture of the other driver’s license plate, skid marks, and anything else that may be relevant about the crash.

Talk to your children about safe driving and what to do in case of an accident. Knowing what to do in case of an accident can protect teenage drivers. Car accidents involving teens happen every day, being prepared, and knowing what to do can minimize the impact.

Car accidents can be extremely stressful and emotional, and an experienced attorney can assist you in receiving the compensation you deserve. Call our office to speak to an attorney experienced in representing car accident victims.