Teen drivers are not among the most careful or accident-averse drivers on the road. Statistically speaking, young drivers are more likely to get in an accident during their formative years behind the wheel.
But should those driving mistakes be paid for by the teen driver, the car's owner, or the teen's parents?
Here are a few scenarios to consider when it comes to teen driver liability for car accidents:
If a Teen Crashes a 'Family Car'
More likely than not, a teen driver is going to get in an accident in a "family car" -- one that's owned by the teen's parent or guardian. Because the car has been entrusted to the teen by the owner, parents can potentially be held liable for negligent entrustment.
Most states will hold parents liable for damage caused by a teen driving a family car under what's called the "family car doctrine." Even in states without such doctrines, if parents are negligent in entrusting their family car to their teen -- perhaps because he's been in two accidents before -- then they will be on the hook for the damages.
If a Teen Crashes a Friend's Car
Parents aren't the only ones who can pay for lending teens their cars. A car owner who lends his car to a teenage friend can also be held liable under vicarious liability.
Often referred to as "owner's liability" in some state laws, car owners can be held responsible for accidents that occur through the use of their vehicles, despite the fact that a teen friend may have been driving.
A driver who was injured by a teen driver can choose to sue the car owner as well, making both parties jointly and serverably liable, but it is more likely that the car owner or his insurance company will foot the bill.
If an Uninsured Teen Driver Gets in a Crash
Many insurance plans have a separate policy for uninsured motorists, which is incredibly helpful for victims. But it also means that insurance companies are not likely to let an uninsured teen accident-causer escape without paying.
If the teen driver was listed on the auto owner's car insurance policy, then damage caused by the teen would be settled between the two insurance companies that have indemnified the claims based on the owner's policy limits and whether it covers the particular damage.
With an uninsured driver, however, injured parties and their insurance companies can sue any parties (owners, teen drivers, parents, etc.) necessary to collect the damages done to their car, property, or personal health. There is also nothing illegal about suing a teenager for their torts, even if their parents end up footing the bill.
Still, because each car accident involving a teenage driver presents different issues and challenges, it may be best to consult an experienced car accident attorney to figure out your best route to recovery.
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- What Colorado Parents Should Know About the Family Car Doctrine (FindLaw's KnowledgeBase)