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Are Parents Liable for an Accident Caused by Their Teen? 

Life Law June 1, 2023

Teenage Driver Making Phone Call After Traffic AccidentMost people know that the laws surrounding crime and punishment are different for minors than they are for adults, and rightly so. Those under the age of 18 are often afforded more lenient sentencing and alternative penalties due to their age and level of maturity. However, there may be times when the parents of those minors can be held liable for their child’s actions, specifically when they cause an accident.  

If you’re wondering, “Are parents liable for an accident caused by their teen?” or “Can a parent be sued in a personal injury lawsuit for an accident caused by their teen?”, you need to meet with a skilled attorney to get your questions answered. To speak with a car accident attorney in the Raleigh, North Carolina, area, including Nags Head, Charlotte, Asheville, and Wilmington, call us at Life Law to schedule a consultation.  

Liability for Accidents in North Carolina

It’s important to understand the basics of accident liability before jumping into a parent’s responsibility. North Carolina is considered an “at-fault” state, which means that whoever causes an accident to happen is also the one responsible for paying damages related to the accident. This is in contrast to a “no-fault” state where the two parties often have to file a claim through their own insurance before doing so with the other driver, regardless of who was at fault.  

Are Parents Liable for an Accident Caused by Their Teen?

Many states, including North Carolina, operate under a “family purpose doctrine” which can be used to hold parents accountable if their teenager causes a car accident. Essentially, the injured party must show that the car belonged to the family, the teenager had consent to use it, and the teenager then caused an accident. The parents can be held financially responsible for any injuries that stem from it. In some cases, parents may have to sign a liability agreement when their child gets their driver’s license. 

Another way the parents can be held liable for their child’s actions is through a legal concept called negligent entrustment of a child. In this case, if a parent knew or should have known that their child represented a potential danger to others and still allowed them to use the family car, they can be held liable.  

One last legal doctrine to be aware of is something called “vicarious liability” (also called “owner’s liability”) which basically states that the owner of a vehicle may be held at fault for an accident even if they weren’t the one driving.  

Will Insurance Cover the Expenses?

After an accident like this happens, parents want to know, “Will insurance cover the costs of an accident caused by my teen?”, but the answer depends on your coverage. Most teens are covered under their parents’ insurance policies, in which case this policy will almost always cover the losses and injuries associated with the crash. If the teenager has their own policy, that plan will pay out. 

Can a Parent Be Sued in a Personal Injury Lawsuit?

In general, yes, a parent can be sued by the victim of a car crash their teenager was responsible for. To do this, the injured party must prove that the child acted negligently and that this negligence caused an injury. Additionally, they must show that the parents failed to supervise them and that because of this, the injury wasn’t able to be prevented.  

Consult an Experienced Attorney

If you’d like to speak with a personal injury attorney about a car accident your teenage child was recently involved in, reach out to our team at Life Law in Raleigh, North Carolina, to learn more about your options.