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It’s summer, and teen drivers are out in full force, some for the very first time. So who’s responsible if they cause an accident?

Vicarious Liability

In the past, vicarious liability was used to hold parents financially responsible for the carelessness of their children, but today, the doctrine of vicarious liability doesn’t exist in the same sense, although the parents can be held liable for damages stemming from their teen’s car accident in certain circumstances:

  • When a parent knows that their child is likely to cause an accident and does not take action to stop it from happening
  • When a parent lends his car to a negligent family member (only in certain states)

Claims Against the Teen Driver

In the past, vicarious liability may have imposed responsibility for a teen’s accident upon his parents, but teen drivers can now be held financially responsible for their own behavior. If the teen failed to drive in a reasonably safe manner by texting while driving, speeding, or failing to obey traffic signals, an injured party can seek compensation from the teen’s insurer or the teen directly. Teens get no special treatment because of their age.

Family Purpose Doctrine

Many states follow family purpose doctrine laws. These laws hold the owner of a vehicle financially responsible for the negligent operation of the vehicle while other family members are driving it, as long as the family member had permission to use the vehicle for any family purpose.

Statistics support the correlation between accidents and teen drivers. According to, 16-year-olds have higher crash rates than drivers of any other age, and 16 and 17-year-old driver fatality rates increase with each additional passenger. But on the positive side, teen drivers with involved parents are twice as likely to wear seatbelts.

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