Generally, under Texas law, a parent can be held liable for their teen driver’s conduct on the road. If you or someone you love was recently injured by a teen driver, suing a parent for their child’s car accident is possible under many circumstances. Contact our team to discuss the specifics of your case.
Filing a Lawsuit Against a Parent for a Child’s Car Accident
Some states take a vehicle owner approach and allow the owner to be held liable for any damages or injuries caused by anyone else driving their car. Other states have adopted what is known as the “family car doctrine,” which applies when a teen causes an auto accident in the family car. However, along with about half the states, Texas does not follow the family car doctrine. Yet, a parent may be sued for their child’s car accident under certain circumstances.
Under the legal theory of negligent entrustment in Texas, a car accident victim may still be able to hold the parent responsible for their teen’s car accident. Under negligent entrustment, parent accountability is based on the fact that the vehicle’s owner allowed it to be used by an unlicensed, incompetent, or reckless driver.
To establish a parent’s liability under negligent entrustment, you must prove four elements:
- The parent is the owner of the vehicle and entrusted the car to the teen;
- The parent knew or should have known that the teen was an incompetent or reckless driver (i.e., the parent was negligent in lending the car to the teen);
- The teen negligently caused the accident; and
- You were injured or incurred damages as a result of the accident.
In other words, you must prove that the accident was reasonably foreseeable because the parent decided to let the teen drive the car.
Texas’ Parental Liability Law
Under the Texas Family Code, a parent may be liable for the negligent conduct of their child if the behavior is reasonably attributed to the parent’s negligent failure to exercise their duty of control over the child. In other words, if a teen driver’s negligence causes property damage, you can hold the parent liable if their teen’s negligence is attributed to their failure to exercise control of their child’s behavior. Additionally, if the child is between the ages of 10 and 18 and commits a willful or malicious act that causes property damage, the parent can be liable for up to $25,000. Importantly, this statute only applies to property damage and not personal injury but can still be an avenue of recovery.
Suppose Jack asks his 17-year-old son, Joe, to take his pickup truck to the grocery store, knowing Joe has multiple moving violation tickets and has been in three previous car accidents since obtaining his license a year earlier. On top of that, Jack knows Joe has never driven his large pickup truck before and is only used to driving a small compact car. If Joe is then speeding down the highway, blasting music, and talking on the phone, and subsequently causes a serious accident, Jack can be held liable for the injuries and damages caused by Joe’s negligent driving.
Common Reasons for Teen Car Accidents
The fatal crash rate per mile driven for drivers 16-19 years old is nearly three times the rate for drivers 20 years old and over. Generally, teen drivers are most prone to car accidents simply due to a lack of experience behind the wheel. They are also less likely to recognize hazards and engage in unsafe behavior. However, there are several common specific reasons for teen driver car accidents, including:
- Texting, talking, or using their phone while driving;
- Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol;
- Distracted behaviors such as chatting with passengers, eating, or applying makeup;
- Reckless driving;
- Racing other cars; and
As with most areas of their life, teens commonly have an “it can’t happen to me” attitude, and that lack of awareness can lead to a devastating crash that will impact not only the victims but also themselves for many years to come.
Texas Car Accident Attorneys
If a teenage driver recently hit you or someone you know, and you are contemplating filing a lawsuit, you might wonder: Can a parent be sued for their child’s car accident? We can help you assess your legal rights and options. We are devoted plaintiffs’ personal injury lawyers at Hartley Law and never receive a penny until you do. Contact us to schedule a no-cost, no-obligation consultation today.