Are Parents Liable for an Accident Caused by Their Teen?
According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, teenage drivers, those 16 and 17 years old, are more likely to be involved in car accidents than any other age group. The study showed that the crash rate of drivers ages 16-17 was nearly double that of drivers 18-19 and approximately 4.5 times that of drivers 30-39, 40-49, and 50-59. Crash rates started to rise at age 70 but never reached the level of teenage drivers.
In the United States, driving is like a rite of passage into adulthood, and parents generally let their teens take the wheel whenever the state allows them to do so. In Georgia, a 15-year-old can get an instructional permit to drive with a licensed driver accompanying them. Then at 16, they can get a Class D driver’s license that comes with some restrictions.
Are parents liable if their teen causes a car crash? The answer to that depends on various factors, but parents should exercise control over their teens’ driving habits to help avoid liability.
If your child has been involved in a car accident in or around Atlanta, Georgia, and you are facing liability beyond what your insurance may cover, contact The Law Firm of Walter Gabriel, LLC. We will listen to your story of what happened and discuss your legal options with you. We also proudly serve clients in the surrounding communities of Dunwoody and Alexandria.
Georgia’s Insurance and Car Accident Laws
Georgia is an at-fault state when it comes to driving and insurance laws. In other words, if one driver causes an accident, that person can be held responsible. Drivers are also required to maintain liability and personal injury insurance to cover any property damage or injuries they may cause. These requirements are known as 25-50-25.
The first 25 stands for $25,000 in bodily injury coverage for one person you as the driver injured. The 50 stands for $50,000 in coverage for all persons you injured in one accident, and the final 25 equates to $25,000 in property damage you cause in one accident. Beyond these limits, the operator of the vehicle is legally liable, and in some cases involving a teen driver, the parent or owner of the vehicle can be held liable.
Joshua’s Law and Teenage Driving in Georgia
A teen in Georgia can start driving with an instructional permit at 15, but must be accompanied by an adult, presumably a parent, for the next year. At 16, the teen can obtain a Class D license, but something called “Joshua’s Law” places restrictions even then. For the first six months, the Class D driver can only operate the vehicle with a family member present—no peers such as friends from school.
During the next six-month period, the teen can have only one peer present while driving. In year two, the limit is extended to three peer passengers. Teen drivers are also not allowed to drive between the hours of 12 a.m. and 6 a.m.
Are Parents Liable for Car Accidents Caused by Their Teenage Drivers?
Parents of teenage drivers no doubt include them on their car insurance, meaning that their policy should cover any car accidents by their son or daughter. However, as noted above, policies have caps or limits on how much they will pay out. It’s not unusual for an injury to surpass the $25,000 limit on a basic policy if the injured party requires repeated treatment, misses work, and claims pain and suffering. Beyond the $25,000 cap, the policyholder will be responsible, in this case, the parent. Likewise, if the teen totals another car, $25,000 might not be enough.
Beyond the issue of insurance, however, parents can also be held liable under the principles of negligent entrustment and family purposes. Negligent entrustment refers to the act of giving your teenager the keys to the car when you know they have a history of reckless or dangerous driving.
Say your child has received several speeding tickets, maybe even a reckless driving citation, and has been involved in other car accidents. Assuming your insurance company hasn’t canceled your policy, if you let your child back on the road knowing his or her record, you can be held personally liable for any resulting car accident or other incident.
The family purposes doctrine has its roots in a case known as Hicks v. Newman. Under this doctrine, if you as the owner of the vehicle give a family member the keys to run an errand for the family who then gets in an accident, you can be liable. As an example, say you send your teen out to the local market to pick up food for dinner and he or she is involved in a car accident, you can be held liable.
Again, however, the other party’s first recourse is to make a claim against your insurance policy. Any amount the insurer doesn’t cover will be your responsibility, and a lawsuit may ensue.
Personal Injury Lawsuits
Someone injured in an accident caused by your teen may not be satisfied by the settlement offered by your insurance company, or they may skip that step entirely and simply file a personal injury lawsuit. Since your teen probably has no assets, you will be the likely defendant in such a lawsuit and your assets will be on the line.
The plaintiff (injured party) will have to show that your son or daughter drove in a negligent manner that resulted in their injuries. You will be faced with the choice of settling out of court or undergoing a courtroom battle to prove who was most at fault. Under the principle of modified comparative negligence used in Georgia, both drivers are assigned a percentage of fault. If you can show the other driver was 50 or more percent to blame for the accident, you’re basically off the hook.
Take the Situation Into Your Hands
If your teen has been involved in an accident and you’re facing liability in or around Atlanta, Georgia, reach out to us immediately at The Law Firm of Walter Gabriel, LLC. Our car accident attorney will assess the situation and advise you of your legal options. Contact us so we can protect you and your rights going forward.