Parental Liability When A Teenager Is Behind The Wheel
Teens, primarily due to inexperience, are statistically more likely to wreck an automobile than adults who have maneuvered, braked, turned, and backed up more frequently and for much longer. From the moment we first let teenagers borrow our cars, trucks and suvs, to the moment they are home safely, we cannot help but fear the worst.
Parental liability, as interpreted by Georgia law, is an entangled web of ‘what ifs’ in which parents are financially responsible for the actions of their children. To further clarify, we are going to dive into liabilities parents face if their teenager causes a car accident resulting in serious injury, or death – or just vehicle damage.
Georgia Has Numerous Ways To Pin Guilt
Avoiding vehicle accidents altogether would be the preferred route for parents in charge of their teen drivers. This is impossible, however, and if your teen has been involved in an accident, we will assume you are currently looking to anyone for help in making sense of what happened. We get it. You want to know who is at fault.
Under Georgia law, parents may be responsible for their children’s actions, while driving, using several different theories:
Georgia’s “Family Purpose Doctrine”
In Georgia, an employer can be legally liable for the negligent actions of its employees. This is known as “vicarious liability.” Vicarious liability also applies to parents and their teenage drivers under a rule known as the “Family Purpose Doctrine.” This rule states that a “every person shall be liable for torts committed by his wife, his child, or his servant by his command or in the prosecution and within the scope of his business, whether the same are committed by negligence or voluntarily.” So, by letting your child use the family car, you are basically creating a “employee-employee” relationship as we just discussed.
The Family Purpose Doctrine may provide additional insurance coverage for an injured party, if for example the at-fault teen driver only has Georgia’s minimum liability insurance coverage of $25,000. If the parents are liable under the Family Purpose Doctrine, the injured party may be able to seek damages from the parents’ homeowner’s insurance or any umbrella coverage they may have in place.
Negligent entrustment means parental responsibility for teen drivers when the parents either knew or should have known their teen driver was a threat to others and failed to take reasonable steps to prevent injury to another. In a negligent entrustment case, the injured party – in our example – must prove that: (1) the parents negligently “entrusted” a vehicle to an unsafe or incompetent teen driver; (2) the teen driver was incompetent and unfit to drive the vehicle safely; (3) the parents knew or should have known their teen driver was incompetent, unfit or incapable of safely driving the vehicle; and (4) the teen driver caused the collision.
Gauging fault based on the philosophy of negligent entrustment or Georgia’s Family Purpose Doctrine, instead of the mere presence of an adult-child or parent-child relationship, is an interpretation best left for an attorney who can discern between the two.
Preemptive Measures You Can Take
Driver safety courses seem like an obvious method of accident avoidance, and they are. The problem is, many teens have life figured out by 13, so getting them to agree may require ‘incentivized’ coercion.
Educating your child on proper rules regarding lane sharing, passing, speed, safety, and proper use of technology is probably your best approach. You are just as capable of teaching your teen driver the basics as anyone, and maneuvering vehicles takes time, anyway.
Insure your child fully. Do not skimp on motor vehicle insurance. Allow your premium to take a hit, if necessary, because the stronger your policy is, the more indemnification you will have when it is time to fork over money for your teen’s accident.
What An Attorney Can Do To Help with Teen Accidents
Hiring an attorney to assist following a motor vehicle collision is a near necessity, nowadays. This is true whether you are the teen driver who caused the wreck or the person who was injured by the negligent actions of the teen driver – as possibly his or her parents.
Learn the Law Before Releasing Teens into the Wild
The laws on both sides of these issues are very complicated and fact specific. Don’t rely on just your parental intuition to educate and protect your teen drivers. Contact the experienced attorneys at Georgia Trial Attorneys who are available to assist.