The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration has found that motor vehicle crashes are the primary cause of fatalities among teenagers between the ages of 16 and 19. Other data shows that while 15-to-24-year-olds represent only 14% of the population, accidents caused by these drivers result in approximately one-third of all costs related to car crashes. While human lives are precious, teenage driver crashes also can result in substantial property damage. In these situations, we are often asked “are parents liable for teen car accidents?” The following are six important details that parents should remember about teen driving accidents.
How Teenage Car Crashes Occur
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found that the rate of teenage car crashes is higher than those involving any other age group. When teenagers cause car crashes, lack of maturity, confidence, and experience are often involved. Some of the most common factors that contribute to teenage car crashes include:
- Distracted driving due to texting or talking on the phone
- Driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- Engaging in aggressive driving patterns like tailgating
- Failing to obey road and traffic conditions
- Not adequately responding to weather conditions
- Speeding too fast for surrounding conditions
Are Parents Liable for Teen Car Accidents? What New York Law Says
Many times, parents are found legally liable for car crashes caused by teenagers. While it is true that no two car accidents are alike, most times when a parent loans a car to another person and allows them to drive the vehicle, the loaner ends up liable for the resulting harm. In these cases, liability is said to “follow the car.”
New York Vehicle and Traffic Law § 388 states that every owner of a vehicle that is used or operated in the state is liable and responsible for death and injuries to a person or property resulting from the negligent actions of any person using or operating that same vehicle with the owner’s permission.
Consequently, a vehicle owner is liable even if he or she is not driving the car at the time that an accident occurs. This regulation applies to both parents and teenagers. This means that if a parent loans the family car to a teenager and an accident occurs, that the parent is liable for the resulting damage as the vehicle’s owner.
Teenagers are Held to the Same Standard as All Motorists
Regardless of age, motorists are held to the same legal standard when it comes to following road regulations and exercising reasonable caution. Any licensed driver who operates a motor vehicle owes a duty of care to all others on the road as well as pedestrians.
If a driver breaches this duty as a result of negligence or recklessness and someone ends up incurring damage as a result, the driver who caused the crash bears responsibility for the resulting damages, which can include lost wages and medical bills.
Liability Only Applies to Operation or Use
So, are parents liable for teen car accidents? Parents, as well as other vehicle owners, are only liable for accidents that result from the use or operation of a vehicle.
For example, consider the Levitt v. Peluso case, in which a motor vehicle owner was subject to legal action after his son threw an egg out of the family car. The victim was subsequently blinded in one eye and as a result, initiated legal action against the car’s owner. The victim’s lawyer argued that because the egg was thrown while the vehicle was being operated, the victim could receive compensation from the parent who owned the car. The father’s lawyers, however, argued that throwing eggs does not encompass the use or operation of a vehicle. The court in the case stated that viewing a car as a “launching pad” for eggs mischaracterizes the character of a car.
Another New York court in Ciminello v. Sullivan held that a case involving urine thrown from a vehicle was properly dismissed because urine did not fall within the use and operation of a vehicle.
Review the Terms of Your Vehicle’s Insurance Policy
As a parent and vehicle owner, you should make sure to always be cautious when loaning your vehicle to someone. You should also make sure that your car’s insurance is up-to-date. When your child begins driving, you should not hesitate to contact your insurance carrier to make sure that your policy does not contain any exclusions related to teenage drivers or other parties who might borrow your vehicle.
Some insurance carriers unfortunately exclude these individuals from coverage. You should make sure that the teenager is covered under your insurance policy. Children in New York can be insured on insurance policies in several ways including being specifically named as an insured, residing in the same household as the vehicle owner, and operating a vehicle without permission. Besides assessing who is covered under your policy, you should also determine what your policy limits are.
What Happens if a Parent Cannot Pay for the Damage?
If a New York court assesses that the damage in a case is greater than $500 and a parent does not have the finances to pay this amount, a parent can pursue a hardship exception. Courts grant a hardship if the parents can establish that neither of them has the money to pay. While the process of proving a hardship is often challenging and requires exhaustive paperwork, a hardship can decrease the amount a parent must pay.
Speak With a Compassionate Long Island Accident Attorney Today
If your teenage child was driving your vehicle and ended up in an accident, you should not hesitate to speak with a knowledgeable personal injury lawyer at the Law Office of Cohen & Jaffe LLP today. During a free case evaluation, our attorneys can help you evaluate your options to pursue compensation. While you focus on recovery, our attorneys will remain focused on navigating insurance claims and if necessary, lawsuits. Contact our law office today to schedule a free case evaluation.
For a free legal consultation, call 516-358-6900