Am I Liable if My Teen Causes a Car Accident in California?

Every parent’s nightmare is that their children could be involved in a car accident. The priority after a car accident is obviously your child’s safety, and to ensure that they are unharmed. However, after learning they are not injured or have received medical treatment, your next question may be: Am I liable if my teen causes an accident? The privilege of driving brings both opportunity and responsibility. But when does the responsibility for negligent or reckless driving transfer from the teen to their parents?

Teen Accidents – Deadly Statistics

Unfortunately, teen accidents are a leading cause of death for teenagers in America. Additionally, while only 14% of the population of the United States are 15-24 in age, they are the ones at greatest risk of being involved in a car accident. Teenage boys have even worse statistics associated with them, including double the rate of fatal car accidents than female teen drivers. Statistics show that 7 teenagers aged 16-19 die every day from car accidents. Even more shockingly, alcohol was responsible for almost one-fourth of all fatal car accidents involving teenagers.

Why Are There So Many Teen Accidents? Teenagers lack the ability to understand the dangers of driving and underestimate the amount of risk in certain dangerous situations. They are more likely to speed or drive recklessly because they simply do not understand the inherent risks involved with driving. They typically do not allow enough space or distance between their car and the cars in front of them or do not have the experience to ensure that they do not crash into other cars on the highway from their failure to check blind spots.

Most significantly, teenagers are the likeliest group to text and drive or have accidents due to distracted driving. Cell phone usage has become an addiction, and many teens struggle to spend any length of time without checking social media or texting friends. Distracted driving accounts for approximately ten percent of all fatal car accidents. Most of those distracted driving accidents involve texting and driving.

Parental Responsibility For Their Kids Auto Accidents

Generally, a parent is not responsible or liable for their teenager causing an accident. However, there are some circumstances in California under which a parent would be liable for damages and injuries caused by their child.

Failure to Supervise – If a parent was negligent in any way involving the supervision of the child, which directly led to their actions that harmed another person, a parent may be liable. The injury that was suffered by the victim must have been a foreseeable consequence of a parent failing to supervise their child. For example, if a teenager does not have a valid driver’s license yet and has snuck out before and driven a car without permission, their parent should know that the incident could occur again. They should take measures to insure that car keys are not accessible, and that the child is supervised. If a teenager takes out a car again without permission, and without a valid driver’s license, a parent may be held responsible for failure to supervise.

In a claim against a parent for failure to supervise, a victim would have to show that the child acted negligently, the negligence caused the injury or damages, the parent was negligent in their failure to supervise the child, and but for that failure to supervise, the injury and damages would never have occurred.

Parental Negligence – If a parent has a teenager with a valid driver’s license, but the parent entrusts a vehicle to a child that they know is reckless, negligent, careless, or incompetent, a parent may be held responsible for any injuries or damages resulting from that teenager’s actions. If a parent has knowledge that their child texts while driving, speeds regularly, drives while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or drag races on public streets, they may be held liable for any injuries that a victim would suffer as a result of their child’s negligence due to negligent entrustment.

To sue a parent for parental negligence, a victim would have to show that the parent entrusted the vehicle to the child, that the parent knew or should have known that the child would have likely acted negligently, recklessly or without competence, and the teenager’s inappropriate actions directly caused injury to the victim.

Family Purpose Doctrine in California Auto Accidents

There is a doctrine known as the family purpose doctrine which holds that the owner of the vehicle is liable for the accident, regardless of who was driving. In most circumstances, the vehicle a teenager is driving is a family car, and oftentimes covered by an insurance policy that covers not only the owner of the car but any driver of the car, making this doctrine irrelevant. However, if there is no insurance policy covering the car, or if the insurance policy does not cover the person who was driving, this doctrine may be a way that a victim can hold the parents of a teenage driver liable for damages or injuries.

The State of California follows the family purpose doctrine, under vicarious liability law, and imputes responsibility and liability to parents for their teenage driver’s actions. Specifically, California Vehicle Code Section 17707 states the following:

Any civil liability of a minor arising out of his driving a motor vehicle…is hereby imposed upon the person who signed and verified the application of the minor for a license, and the person shall be jointly and severally liable with the minor for any damages proximately resulting from the negligent or wrongful act or omission of the minor in driving a motor vehicle.

 Both California Vehicle Code Sections 17707 and 17708 directly hold a parent potentially liable for any damage that comes from a car accident if the parent has expressly or implicitly given permission for the minor to drive that vehicle. California even goes so far as to say that any willful misconduct of a minor that results in the injury or death to another person will be imputed and transferred to the parent.

Contact Silverthorne Attorneys Today

If you were injured by a teen driver in an auto accident, contact Silverthorne Attorneys today. Our knowledgeable and skilled Orange County car accident lawyers have helped countless car accident victims recover compensation for their injuries. For a complimentary consultation of your case, contact us at (949) 234-6034 or on our secure contact form here now.