Generally, a parent is not automatically liable for an automobile accident caused by their child. However, a parent may be liable for damages under the following situations: 

  1. Failure to Supervise: The parent was negligent in failing to supervise the child, which led to the child undertaking actions that caused the injury. The injury caused must have been a foreseeable consequence of the parent failing to control the child. For example: If a parent left the keys in the car with a 6-year-old who had previously tried to drive the car.
  2. Parental Negligence: The parent was negligent by entrusting a vehicle to a child they know to be either incompetent or reckless. For example: a parent lending their car to their teenage son when they are aware that he uses it to go drag racing on public city streets.
  3. Family Purpose Doctrine: The child was using the car for a "family purpose” with the consent of the parent.

Each state has its own specific laws dealing with parent liability for the negligent driving of their children. To find out more about parent liability it is wise to consult an experienced personal injury attorney.

What Does the Injured Party Need to Prove?

Failure to Supervise

To succeed in a claim against a parent for failure to supervise, the injured party must usually show:

  • The child acted negligently;
  • The child’s negligent act caused the injury;
  • The parent was negligent by failing to supervise the child; and
  • If not for the parent’s failure to supervise the child, the injury would not have occurred.

Parental Negligence

To sue for parental negligence, the injured party must usually show: 

  • The parent entrusted the vehicle to the child;
  • The parent knew or should have known that the child was either not competent to operate the vehicle or would be reckless in using the vehicle;
  • The plaintiff was harmed; and
  • The child’s incompetence or recklessness caused the harm to the plaintiff.

Family Purpose Doctrine

The family purpose doctrine varies widely from state to state. In some states, parents are generally liable any time their children are negligent behind the wheel. Other states require that the child have the consent of the parent to use the car or for the child to be using the family vehicle to fulfill some action on behalf of the parent. If you have questions regarding your state’s view on the family purpose doctrine, you should consult with a local personal injury lawyer.

Do I Need an Attorney?

If you or someone you know has been involved in an auto accident you should contact a lawyer as soon as possible. A personal injury lawyer with experiences in auto accidents can inform you of rights or remedies that may be available to you. A skilled attorney can gather evidence, hire experts, interview witnesses, negotiate with auto insurance agencies, and advocate for you in court.