Are Parents Liable for Car Accidents Caused by Their Children?

In New York, a parent is not generally liable for a child’s actions unless the parents themselves were negligent. However, when the parents own the vehicle that their child negligently uses to cause an accident, the parents may be liable under state law.

If you have a teen, college-aged, or even an older adult child who drives your car, it is wise to make sure your insurance policy will cover damages related to their use. If your vehicle has already been in an accident, speak with a lawyer to determine your rights and responsibilities.

Liability for a child’s actions

In New York, a parent is not generally liable for injuries that their child causes simply based on their family relationship. Rather, parental liability arises out of negligent conduct. You may be held legally responsible for your child’s actions if you:

  • Carelessly allowed the child to use a vehicle when doing so was unreasonably dangerous under the circumstances
  • Failed to supervise or restrain the child when they were doing something that could endanger others
  • Consented to the behavior
  • Had a “master and servant” relationship in which the child was acting on your behalf

If you entrust your vehicle to your child knowing they may be drinking or partaking in some other dangerous behavior, you can be held responsible for the results under even general negligence principles. However, state law expands the liability for vehicle owners.

New York law holds vehicle owners liable

According to New York’s Vehicle and Traffic Law Section 388, the owner of a vehicle that is used or operated in the state is liable for death, injury, or property damage caused by the negligent operation of the vehicle. This is a type of vicarious liability, and many states have adopted similar laws to protect the general public.

In cases of vicarious liability, the person who acted carelessly to cause an injury is not the one who is sued. Instead, someone who is responsible for their actions is named in a lawsuit. In the case of teen or young adult drivers, the driver typically is not financially able to pay a personal injury judgment. However, the Vehicle and Traffic Law can allow an injured party to sue the parents who owned the car.

Liability and insurance coverage

Liability and auto insurance coverage are not always the same, even when the insurance policy covers your liability.

Since New York follows a no fault structure for auto accidents, when someone suffers an injury that is not “serious” as defined in the state, their only recourse is to file a no-fault claim with their own insurance carrier. But if the injuries are serious, they can file a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault driver.

If your child was at fault for an accident causing minor injuries, they may be legally to blame, but the losses will be paid by the injured party’s insurance carrier. If the injuries were serious, you might not be liable, but your insurance may still have to pay if your child is determined to be an “insured” under the policy.

Is your child covered by your insurance?

To be covered by insurance, a driver must be defined as “insured” in the policy. Your child may be an “insured” in several ways:

  • Being specifically named as an insured
  • By residing in the same household
  • When operating the vehicle with your permission

Speak with your insurance agent to determine whether your child is adequately covered. If your child is not living at home, your agent may advise you to add your child to your policy or even to transfer the vehicle to his or her name.

Take precautions with your future

As parents, paying for your children is nothing new. However, bearing the financial liability for a teen or even adult child who causes a serious accident can be ruinous.

If your child drives your car and has not yet been in an accident, discuss your situation with your insurance agent to avoid a very costly mistake down the line. If your child has been involved in a crash in your vehicle, talk to a car accident lawyer in New York. The team at Douglas & London is here to help. We understand the complex issues that can arise in NY car accidents and will search for the strongest resolution for your situation.

Call Douglas & London today. Consultations are free and confidential.