You just bought your 16 year old son a used car so that he can drive himself to school and back home. Everything is going great. You get more time to drink coffee in the morning and check up on your social media, while your son gets ready and drives himself to school. Then it happens. Your son causes an accident when he runs a red light while he is trying to find the perfect road song on his cell phone. The other driver is injured and now they are threatening to sue you for your son’s mistake. Legally, are you liable for your son’s accident?
The good news is that you are not automatically liable for causing your son’s accident. In Texas, there is no law that makes parents strictly liable for the negligent acts of their minor children. While Jr. may be held liable for causing the accident, you can generally rest assured that the negligent party cannot sue you and take away everything that you have worked so hard in your life for. The only exception to this general rule is if the other driver can prove that you negligently entrusted your own vehicle to your son.
Let’s briefly talk about the law of negligent entrustment so that you can know how to avoid being responsible if your teenage child negligently causes an accident.
What is Negligent Entrustment?
Texas provides a cause of action (a right of recovery) where a person negligently entrusts his or her vehicle to another person. To meet the burden of proof, the plaintiff (the injured party) must prove:
(i) the owner entrusted his or her vehicle to another person;
(ii) that person was an unlicensed, incompetent or a reckless driver;
(iii) the owner knew or should have known that the driver was unlicensed, incompetent or reckless;
(iv) the driver was in fact negligent on the occasion in question; and
(v) the driver’s negligence caused the plaintiff’s injuries.
Therefore, you may be liable for causing an accident if you loan your car to your teenage son or daughter and they drive without a license. Or you could be liable if you loan your vehicle to your teenage child and you know that they are a really bad driver, as shown by their history of receiving multiple tickets and/or causing prior wrecks. On more that one occasion in my career, I successfully sued the parents of a minor child who loaned the family vehicle to their unlicensed child who caused an accident. We ended up settling those cases out of court with the parents’ insurance company.
Here is what you should do to protect yourself and your minor children to help minimize the risk of having to pay out of pocket for an accident caused by your minor child:
- Always purchase and maintain liability insurance and make sure that your licensed children are included on your policy. That way, if your child is involved in a wreck, your minor child will be covered under your automobile policy. Some insurance companies will allow you to exclude drivers like your minor children. I would NEVER exclude any drivers, even if it will cost you a little more in premiums every month. Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish.
- Never loan your vehicle to your minor child if they do not yet have their license. The same is true if there are restrictions on your child’s license that prevent them from driving without an adult present in the vehicle. Do not let them drive the car without a licensed adult present.
- Do not loan your vehicle to your minor child if you know that your child is an incompetent or reckless driver. As a rule of thumb, do not let your son or daughter drive your vehicle if your child has received a very serious traffic infraction (DWI or reckless driving for example) or been involved in 2 or more traffic accidents or received 2 or more traffic citations resulting in a conviction.
If your child is involved in an accident, you should call your own insurance company to discuss the wreck and to request that they provide you and your child coverage for the accident. If you happen to be the victim of a negligent teenage driver, please give our office a call at (915) 584-8777 to discuss the particulars of your own individual circumstances. We have helped 1000s of people injured in motor vehicles here in El Paso and the borderland.