For teenagers across America, one of the most exciting things about turning 16 is trying to get a driver's license. A license can bring a sense of freedom. It marks the approach of adulthood. Parents, however, may be more ambivalent about what this birthday and the privilege of driving mean.
Car accidents are a leading cause of death for American teenagers. Furthermore, even though the group from ages 15-24 is only 14% of the United States population, the greatest risk of suffering a car crash among all groups is teenage drivers. Teenage boys have double the rate of fatal crashes as female teen drivers, and teens driving with teen passengers are more likely to crash.
In 2010, highway safety researchers found that seven teens aged 16-19 died every day from car crashes. This group was also three times more likely than those over the age of 19 to get into a fatal accident. Fatalities may be more common because teens are the least likely to use their seatbelts. Additionally, teen drinking was responsible for 22% of fatal car crashes in 2010.
Why is the risk for teen drivers so great? Most teens underestimate danger or don't identify risks at all due to lack of experience. They are also more likely to speed and allow insufficient distance between cars. Leaving enough distance between two cars is important when trying to avoid a rear-end accident.
If your teenage child is in a fatal crash that was not his or her fault, you may be able to bring a wrongful death lawsuit against the at-fault driver or any other negligent party. You may be able to recover compensatory damages, including any medical bills, funeral expenses, out-of-pocket expenses, and pain and suffering.
Who Is Responsible When a Teen Injures Someone in A Crash?
Usually, teenagers are covered under their parents' insurance policies when they start driving. When a teen is insured and causes an accident, the insurance company will have a duty to step up and defend and indemnify the teenager. Generally, the greater risk of teenage drivers getting into an accident is accounted for in the premium that is charged to the parent. However, the profit-oriented culture of insurance companies encourages the denial of legitimate claims. If an insurance company fails to defend and indemnify when appropriate, a parent can bring a bad faith action against the company.
Can a parent ever be held responsible? In many cases, a parent will not be held personally liable for the negligent driving of his or her child. However, there are exceptions. A parent can be held personally responsible if he or she knows the teen is an incompetent or reckless driver, or if the teen is driving as part of work for the parents.
Some states have laws that impose liability on parents when their teenagers' reckless driving causes an accident on public roads. However, most of the time a parent will not be liable for the teenager's negligence if he or she used the car without permission, or if a parent doesn't have custody of the child. Moreover, parents can revoke their responsibility by refusing to sign the application for their child's drivers' license or reporting to the state that they withdraw their support.
Generally, the parent owns the vehicle that the teen drives. When a parent knows or should know in the exercise of due care that his or her teen is not fit to operate a car, the parent can be held liable for any accidents caused by the teen under a cause of action called negligent entrustment.
For example, if a teen has an alcohol abuse problem and frequently comes home smelling of alcohol or drinks in front of his or her parents, the parents should know that the teen's risk of getting into an accident is greater than usual. A parent who permits his or her teen to drive a car, or looks the other way to avoid knowing the teen drives the car, may be held liable for any accidents caused by the teenager. In that case, if the teenager is not insured, an injured party may still sue the parent directly for compensatory damages, and in some cases punitive damages as well.