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Are Parents Liable for an Accident Caused by Their Teen?

Law Office of Steven R. Smith Aug. 24, 2023

According to the New York State Department of Health, each day, 10 people are sent to the hospital or even fatally injured by a teen driver. The leading cause of crashes by teens is unsafe speed at 21 percent, whereas drivers aged 25 to 49 involved in crashes are only 10 percent at fault for unsafe speed. The second leading cause of teen driving accidents is simply inexperience—found at 8 percent. 

In New York State, when someone reaches the age of 16, they can obtain a learner’s permit. After six months with no license suspension, the teen can advance to a junior license. There are requirements to prove they’ve had at least 50 hours of supervised driving, including 15 hours at night. The applicant must also complete a pre-licensing driver’s education course. Junior license holders must still have a parent or guardian with them while driving. At 17, they can obtain an unrestricted license. 

However, if the teen is still a dependent of you, the parent or guardian, you can be liable for any property damage or personal injuries caused by your teen driver, depending on the circumstances and the caps on your insurance coverage. Consider this: The average length of hospitalization in an accident involving a teen driver is five days, ringing up more than $53,000 in medical expenses. 

If your teen has been involved in an accident in or around New York or Long Island, and you are concerned about your liability as a parent or a guardian, my firm—the Law Office of Steven R. Smith—is here to help.

As a professional car accident attorney, I have more than 30 years of experience in personal injury claims and lawsuits, and I will be able to advise you of your rights and responsibilities going forward. I will deal directly with your insurance claim to negotiate for the best outcome. I also proudly serve clients in the neighboring areas of Hempstead, Westbury, Mineola, and New Hyde Park. 

Liability for Accidents in New York 

New York is a no-fault auto insurance state. This means that, for personal injuries, the injured person must first file a claim with their own insurance company under the personal injury protection (PIP) provision of their policy even if the other driver caused the accident. PIP will cover not only the driver but also their passengers. 

The basic requirement for auto insurance in New York is to have $50,000 in PIP coverage. In addition, you must carry $25,000 per person bodily injury coverage for injuries you cause to one other individual, and $50,000 for injuries you cause to all others not in your vehicle.  

There is also a requirement for $50,000 in fatality coverage for one fatality you cause, and $100,000 in fatality coverage for one accident (more than one fatality). You also must carry $10,000 in property damage coverage for damage you cause to other’s vehicles or property. 

Note that, though PIP will cover your medical expenses and lost wages, a basic policy provides no coverage for damages you sustain to your vehicle. For that purpose, you will need to purchase optional collision and/or comprehensive coverage or seek a claim against the at-fault driver. 

When your teen starts driving, you will have to add him or her to your policy, so presumably if your child does get involved in an accident, your insurance will cover injuries and property damage, but if the amounts exceed your coverage, you could be on the hook for the difference. 

Can Parents Be Liable for an Accident Caused by Their Teen? 

Under some circumstances, a parent or guardian may be deemed liable for any injuries or damages caused by their teen driver. One legal principle in this regard is known as negligent entrustment. If your teen has caused previous accidents and/or gotten cited for repeated traffic violations, and you let them drive anyway, you can be held liable for negligent entrustment. Another term for this is vicarious liability. 

Another factor is that, when your teen applies for their junior license, you as the parent or guardian must sign the application as a sort of guarantor of their child’s willingness to adhere to the rules of the road, and thus the parent or guardian assumes a measure of liability. Vicarious liability will apply to you as the parent or guardian so long as your child is living at home and dependent on you, even after they turn 18. 

Can a Parent or Guardian Be Sued? 

The answer is yes, but that would generally mean that your insurance policy caps were breached (for example, if the medical expenses topped $50,000) or that your insurance company declined to honor the claim for whatever reason (such as citing perhaps negligent entrustment). But if a teen driver runs up a bad driving record, there is also a good chance that either your premium will go sky high or the insurer will refuse to cover the teen driver. 

If you are being sued, you need to get the support of a diligent personal injury attorney for support. Your attorney will fight for you and your loved ones, advocating for your rights and a positive future.  

Strong and Dependable Legal Guidance 

If your teen is involved in an accident that causes property damage and injury to others, you need to make a claim on your auto insurance policy, but beware of one thing: Insurers have trained professionals known as claims adjusters whose sole goal is to safeguard the parent company’s bottom line. The result is generally a low-ball first settlement offer. Don’t accept it. In fact, don’t do the negotiating yourself.

Instead, get my knowledgeable support. I’ll deal with the claims adjuster and fight for your just settlement. I’ve been fighting the insurance companies for three decades, and I know all their tricks. Contact me at the Law Office of Steven R. Smith if you’re in New York or Long Island, or in neighboring communities.