If you're the parent of a new teen driver, then you may be understandably
filled with mixed emotions. On the one hand, you're proud of your
teen for learning how to drive and reaching the milestone of obtaining
a driver's license. On the other hand, you may be worried about your
teen's safety while they're behind the wheel. Unfortunately, young
drivers are responsible for nearly 30% of motor vehicle accidents across
the country, which is why it's important that you as a parent understand
vicarious liability laws in Florida and how they can affect both you and your teen.
What is Vicarious Liability?
Essentially, vicarious liability as it applies to car accidents means that
parents may be held legally and financially responsible for accidents
caused by their children. Fault for an accident can vary and must be assessed
and determined on a case-by-case basis, but all parents of young drivers
should make themselves aware of these laws and take the proper actions
to protect themselves.
Teen or Parent: Who's Responsible?
There are a number of factors that are taken into consideration when determining
who is responsible for an auto accident. In most cases, if a teen driver
causes an accident, the person (or people) affected should seek compensation
directly from the teen or his or her insurance company. Even though teen
drivers may still be legal minors, they are treated as adults when it
comes to their driving rights and responsibilities. In other words, they
don't receive any special treatment and will be held accountable if
they cause an accident.
Teen drivers who cause accidents may be held responsible:
- Directly for their own careless driving,
- Indirectly through their parent under the Family Purpose Doctrine, or
- Indirectly through their parent if the parent knew or should have known
that the teen would likely drive negligently.
Still, there are two scenarios in which a parent may also be held partially
responsible for an auto accident caused by a teen driver. These scenarios include:
- when a parent knowingly allows a negligent teen driver to take the wheel
- when the "Family Purpose Doctrine" applies.
Consider, for example, a situation where a teen's mother knows the
teen driver has a tendency to run or roll through stop signs. Still, the
mother allows the teen to continue driving, despite the fact that she
knows the behavior is putting other drivers at risk. The teen driver ends
up running a stop sign and hitting another car. If the other party can
prove that the parent knowingly allowed a negligent teen driver to operate
a vehicle, the parent could very well be held at least partially responsible
for the damages in court.
The "Family Purpose Doctrine" is another scenario where parents
could be held liable for the actions of their teen drivers. Essentially,
this doctrine states that the owner of the vehicle is responsible for
its operation, even when the vehicle is being lent to a family member
for just about any purpose.
For instance, a teen's parent allows the teen to use the family vehicle
to drive to and from school. One day, the teen gets into an accident with
another vehicle and it is determined to be the teen's fault. Based
on this doctrine, both the teen and the parent could be held responsible
for the damages associated with this accident.
How Parents Can Protect Themselves
In addition to making sure their teens are safe drivers, parents can also
protect themselves from liability by making sure teens with their own
vehicles are covered under their own insurance policies. Furthermore,
if teens display habits of unsafe driving, parents should withhold their
teens' driving privileges until the behavior is remedied and done
We're Here When You Need Us
As one of South Florida's most respected and oldest law firms, Stabinski
& Funt, P.A. has helped many people sort out their legal rights, responsibilities,
and remedies. For 45 years, we have been the trusted advocates for countless
personal injury victims and their families. We also work on a contingency
basis, which means that if there is no recovery, there is no fee or cost
to you. If you wish to learn more about how our firm can be of assistance
to you, we encourage you to contact us for a free consultation by calling
filling out a case evaluation form.