Parents’ Responsibility After Teenager Is in a Car Accident?

Teenagers don’t want to hear this, but they are considered an “at risk” category of driver. They mostly feel like they know better, drive better and are more skillful than the road users around them, in spite of the fact they’ve only been driving for a short time.

Once they get behind the wheel with a valid driving license, they are responsible for their own actions, but more and more, different states want to place tighter restrictions on teen drivers and again, teens don’t want to hear this.  And here’s something the teens’ parents might not want to hear; in certain circumstances, parents can be held liable for their teen’s negligent driving if their teenager is in a car accident and someone else is injured.

Before every parent reading this runs to their teenager’s room and demands the car keys, it should be pointed out that in most cases, the teenage driver is responsible for his or her own actions. However, there are some cases where the parents can be held liable if their teen fails to exercise what is considered due and reasonable care. These circumstances include when:

  • The parent knowingly allows a teen whom they know to be reckless or incompetent to drive
  • The parent fails to supervise their teenage driver
  • The teen is working for their parent or parents, or when the teen is acting on behalf of a parent when the accident occurs
  • The teen is driving the parents’ car (family car) for family reasons and with at least one parent’s consent; e.g. running household errands

Clearly, some of the above could be considered gray areas, but the objective behind the regulations that apply to these circumstances is to ensure parents monitor their teenager’s driving. It’s true to say that in the vast majority of cases, the parent will not be held responsible for their son’s or daughter’s negligence behind the wheel if the teen was driving without permission—a clear loophole in the relevant laws.

Other cases where a parent will most definitely not be held liable are those where they do not have custody of the teenager when the accident occurs. In such cases, even the most stringent laws holding parents liable for their teen’s driving will not apply.

Many states, however, including Oregon, can and do hold parents responsible when their teenager drives in a reckless or dangerous manner, and when someone is injured, the penalties can be severe. The parent can actually be considered liable for damages, including injuries caused to a third party, if the teen caused the accident through negligent driving behavior.

Why pick on teenage drivers…and their parents?

Increasing restrictions on teenage drivers and holding their parents responsible for negligent driving are part of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) multi-tiered approach to reducing the level of road deaths involving teenage drivers. The strategy aimed at making roads safer includes:

  • Greater enforcement on laws relating to the use of seat belts
  • Implementation of graduated driver licensing laws
  • Reducing teenagers’ access to alcohol
  • Enforcement of laws dealing with parental responsibility

The fact is, teenage drivers are more likely to be involved in fatal traffic accidents than any other age group. How much more likely? Well, NHTSA statistics show that drivers in the 15 to 20 age group are involved in fatal accidents more than three times as often as any other age group.

Teens believe that because they’re young and physically fit, they are more capable and have the reflexes to deal with any unexpected conditions or circumstances. In reality, studies have shown that teen overestimate their driving ability and underestimate the risks and hazards associated with various traffic and road conditions. They are also very prone to being distracted by things like cell phones, music and other passengers, and most especially other teenagers in the car, which is why many states are clamping down on the number of teenage passengers that can accompany a teen driver.

Unfortunately, when teenage drivers become distracted or are unable to cope with the unexpected, innocent road users become victims of tragic accidents. In Oregon, hundreds of people are seriously injured every year in accidents involving teenage drivers; many are killed. When a teenager is in a car accident, statistics show that injuries can be serious.

Parents are left to pick up the pieces after such traumatic accidents, and as the law stands now, they may also be left with a liability they can ill afford. Portland personal injury lawyers are often approached by parents of teenagers who have been involved in road traffic accidents who are unsure as to what will happen next. Frequently asked questions include:

  • My teen was in an accident, but we don’t think he or she was at fault. What do I need to do?
  • Who determines whether or not my teen is a reckless or incompetent driver?
  • Even if I’m not held responsible for my teen’s accident, what happens to them? Can my teenage child be sued or even arrested.

Circumstances vary from case to case, and you’re right to consult a personal injury attorney if you have any questions. The law is seldom straightforward and is often quite complicated, so if you’re in any doubt, seek legal advice.

Likewise, if you’re an innocent victim of an accident involving a teenage driver, you will want to know who is liable for your injuries, medical bills, lost wages, the damage to your car and other costs associated with the crash. Is it the at-fault teen driver who will have to pay? Is it their parent or parents? If I decide to file a lawsuit, who do I sue?

The answers to these and other questions can best be answered by a competent Portland car accident attorney who is familiar with such cases. If you’re unsure as to your rights, contact a good personal injury lawyer. The consultation is free, and they can guide you through the entire complicated process of filing the claim and receiving compensation.