Are Parents Liable for an Accident Caused by Their Teen?
March 27, 2023
You loan the family car to your 17-year-old on a Saturday to go with friends, and you get a call at midnight: “I’ve been in a wreck. What should I do?” Presumably, your child is covered under your auto insurance policy, so the first answer is that you need to contact your insurer.
Things can get complicated from that point, however. What if the people in the other vehicle suffered significant injuries? While under Florida’s no-fault insurance laws, they would have to first turn to their personal injury protection (PIP) coverage. If that were not enough and/or they suffered serious enough injuries, they could launch a lawsuit. They can’t sue your child, who probably has no assets, but they could come after you. Is this legal?
Florida has what is called parental responsibility laws on the books, which cover the actions of any minors, including driving incidents. However, the other party would have to prove negligence on the part of your teen to be able to prevail in a personal injury lawsuit. Still, you want to avoid the complications that can arise from your son or daughter’s driving habits.
If your teenage child has been involved in an accident in or around Altamonte Springs, Florida, contact me at the Law Office of Mark A. Cornelius P.A. for legal assistance. With more than 25 years of experience in personal injury claims and lawsuits, I can advise you of your rights and your legal options going forward. I also proudly serve clients throughout Central Florida, including Seminole, Orange, Osceola, Volusia, and the counties of Polk and Lake.
Liability for Accidents in Florida
As mentioned above, when it comes to traffic accidents, Florida is among 12 states that offer no-fault coverage. What this means is that anyone injured in an accident must first turn to their own insurance and its PIP (personal injury protection) provision to cover medical expenses and lost wages. Property damage is, however, the responsibility of the at-fault driver.
When injuries exceed your coverage and are significant enough, then you can file a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault driver under the legal principle of negligence.
All drivers have a duty of care to safeguard others, and if there are negligent through their actions or inactions, they can be sued when specific criteria are met. Generally, this means the injuries must be serious, such as permanent loss of an important bodily function, disfigurement, a permanent injury or scarring, or death.
Are Parents Liable for an Accident Caused by Their Teenage Driver?
The answer is yes in Florida, though the circumstances will dictate the liability if any. Florida Statutes 322.09 require that a driver’s license for anyone under 18 be “signed and verified” by the father, mother, or guardian. Furthermore:
“Any negligence or willful misconduct of a minor under the age of 18 years when driving a motor vehicle upon a highway shall be imputed to the person who has signed the application of such minor for a permit or license, which person shall be jointly and severally liable with such minor for any damages caused by such negligence or willful misconduct.”
In addition to the driving application liability by parents or guardians, two other legal principles may apply. One is negligent entrustment. This refers to a situation in which the parent or guardian entrusts the minor to use the vehicle when they knew of the risks. For instance, the minor has been involved in other accidents, has been ticketed for speeding and/or reckless driving, or has had their driving privilege suspended.
Another legal principle is vicarious liability. This generally means the parent or guardian has sent the minor on a “family use” or “family purpose” journey, perhaps to go buy food for dinner. If the minor causes an accident resulting in injuries and/or property damage while on the family “mission,” then the parents or guardian can be liable.
Can a Parent Be Sued for Personal Injury From a Child’s Accident?
Yes, but only if the injuries warrant a lawsuit. Remember, the injured party’s PIP coverage should provide for medical expenses and/or lost wages up to the limit of the coverage purchased, but even then, the payout is only 60 to 80 percent.
A lawsuit may ensue if the injuries are serious enough and the limits of coverage have been exceeded. However, the suing party will have to prove negligence on the part of the minor in the accident.
Understand Your Rights After an Accident
Drivers before the age of 20 or 21 tend to be less experienced and are less cautious when behind the wheel, so it is essential to impress upon your minors the need to be careful. It may also be a good idea to increase your insurance coverage by adding comprehensive and/or collision riders. Still, under Florida’s laws, you as a parent or guardian can be liable until your child turns 18, at which time they are of majority age and thus responsible.
If your minor has been involved in an accident in Central Florida, you need to reach out immediately to the Law Office of Mark A. Cornelius P.A. for help. I can review the circumstances and advise you of your rights and responsibilities. I can also help you exercise your rights should any legal action occur.