It’s common knowledge, backed up by statistical data, that teenagers (typically driving a family car) have the greatest likelihood of causing a motor vehicle accident. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control reports that 16-19-year-olds have the highest accident rate of any age group. A legitimate concern for many parents, then, is the extent to which they may be liable for injuries and damage caused by their children while operating the family vehicle.
Before looking at whether a parent has liability, it’s important to look at the legal requirements to prove a case of negligence (negligence is most often the legal theory upon which a claim for compensation is based). Negligence requires that you prove the following:
- That a person failed to exercise the reasonably expected standard of care
- The failure to exercise reasonable care caused the accident
- You suffered actual loss because of the accident
Situations Where You Can Be Liable for the Acts of Your Children
There are two recognized legal theories by which a parent may be held responsible for a child’s carelessness behind the wheel of a car:
- Negligent entrustment
- Vicarious liability
Under the principle of negligent entrustment, the carelessness of a child may be attributed to a parent if the parent knew or should have known that the child posed an unreasonable or inherent risk of injury to others. With respect to an automobile accident, if a parent permits a minor to drive the family car, knowing that the minor has demonstrated poor judgment behind the wheel in the past, the parent may be found responsible. If the minor has been ticketed for speeding or for failing to stop at a traffic signal, or has been in a couple accidents, that can be introduced as evidence that the parent should have known and appreciated the risk of letting the child drive the family car.
Under the legal principal of “agency,” if there’s an agent-principal relationship between two parties—one (the agent) who is acting on behalf of the other (principal)—the principal can be found vicariously liable for the wrongful acts of the agent, even if the principal was not present when the accident occurred. Accordingly, if a parent sends a child on an errand and the child causes an accident, the parent can be found responsible.
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At the Cintron Firm, LLC, we offer more than 14 years of experience to people in New Jersey facing a broad array of legal challenges. Send us an e-mail or call us at 201-791-1333 or (201) 535-0323 to set up an appointment.