Vicarious Liability: Parents & Teen Drivers

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 so consistently.

We're Here When You Need Us

As one of South Florida's most respected and oldest law firms, Stabinski Lawhas 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 305-964-8644 or filling out a case evaluation form.

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