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Teenage Driver Making Phone Call After Traffic Accident

Are Parents Liable for an Accident Caused by Their Teen?

Law Office of Joshua S. Reed April 6, 2023

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the fatality rate for drivers ages 16 to 19 is three times higher than the rate for drivers 20 and older. The crash rate is also four times higher for the teenage group as compared to those 20 and up. Drivers under 20 make up about four percent of all drivers nationwide. 

If you have a teenage son or daughter who ventures out and gets in a collision with another vehicle, causing property damage and injuries, can you be held responsible as the parent? The answer is a blend of no, maybe, and yes. Generally, if your teen is covered by your automobile insurance, the insurer should take care of everything up to the limits of your coverage. 

All drivers are expected to exercise a duty of care while operating their vehicles, which means they must take the necessary precautions to safeguard the safety of those in their vehicle and those in vehicles around them. Ignoring duty of care is the legal equivalent of being negligent, which can result not only in insurance claims but also in lawsuits. 

If your teen has been involved in a collision in or around Knoxville or Farragut, Tennessee, contact the accident and personal injury attorneys at the Law Office of Joshua S. Reed. We will evaluate the situation with you and even handle your claim with your insurance company so you don’t have to deal with a bunch of tricky questions from the claims adjuster, designed to limit the insurer’s liability. 

The Law Office of Joshua S. Reed also proudly serves clients in communities surrounding Knoxville and Farragut, including Anderson, Blount, Union, Maryville, Oak Ridge, Loudon, and Clinton. For cases involving significant personal injuries, we have traveled to Jefferson County, Union County, Hamilton County, Cocke County, Cumberland County, and Monroe County. 

Auto Insurance Laws in Tennessee

Tennessee’s basic auto insurance requirements are fairly straightforward. At a minimum, you must have bodily injury (BI) coverage of $25,000 for injuries you cause to a single person and $50,000 for all persons you injure. You must also carry property damage (PD) insurance of at least $15,000 to cover damages you cause to others’ vehicles or personal property.  

Uninsured motorist bodily injury (UMBI), which covers injuries you suffer at the hands of an uninsured driver, and uninsured motorist property damage (UMPD) are also required, though you can opt out if you do so in writing. 

The key here is that a basic policy covers only injuries and damage you cause to others, not your own vehicle or yourself or your passengers unless struck by an uninsured motorist (and you haven’t opted out). If you want to cover yourself and your vehicle(s), you must purchase collision coverage for property damage and medical payments (MedPay) coverage for injuries suffered in your vehicle. 

Tennessee Is an At-Fault State

Tennessee observes what is known as the at-fault principle when it comes to insurance claims. In contrast to a no-fault state where you must rely on your insurer to cover everything, in an at-fault state you have options when you’ve been injured in an accident caused by another driver: 

  1. First, you can file a claim with your insurer and let them seek a subrogation claim against the at-fault driver’s insurance.  

  1. Second, you can file directly with the other driver’s insurer.  

  1. Finally, you can file a personal injury and/or property damage lawsuit. 

Are Parents Liable for Their Teen’s Accident? 

In most cases, everything will be covered by your insurance policy, up to the limits you signed up for. However, there are a few legal principles that the other driver can invoke (if they apply to the circumstances) to hold you as the parents liable. 

One such principle is called negligent entrustment. Under this principle, the parents must have allowed their teen to drive even when they foresaw possible danger. For instance, their teen has already been cited for reckless driving and has been involved in three other accidents. The injured victim(s) can then come after you legally. However, if the teen had been involved in three collisions, the insurer may have already canceled the policy. 

Another principle is the family purpose doctrine. This is kind of a vicarious liability principle, much like an employer who sends an employee out to pick something up and injures others in a car wreck. In this case, it is the parents who send their teen out to run an errand and the teen gets in an accident. 

Failure to supervise can come into effect in certain situations. Say the parents left their car keys out and easily accessible, and their unlicensed 15-year-old ventures out and gets in a collision. Since the teen would no doubt not be included in the parents’ insurance policy, this situation can get pretty serious. 

Does Insurance Cover All Expenses, Including a Lawsuit Against You? 

Let’s face it: With cars costing $40,000 or more in our modern inflated economy, $15,000 is not always going to cover all property damages, nor is $25,000 if an injured party must undergo lengthy treatment and a long recovery period. You should weigh that reality against the limits you purchase on your coverage. 

Say you are sued by the victim of your teen’s driving. Will the insurance you have cover your legal expenses? It should, but again look at the limits you purchased. A lawsuit can take a long time to play out, while expenses keep adding up. The insurer and you will no doubt want to forge an out-of-court settlement. 

Seek Trusted Legal Representation 

Insurance claims can be challenging enough. The insurer will assign a claims adjuster to question you. If you’re not familiar with dealing with claims adjusters, you can be “tricked” into saying something they can use to lower their settlement, or even deny it. If the other party is suing you, then you definitely need an experienced car accident attorney to represent you. 

If your teen has been involved in an accident in or around Knoxville or Farragut, contact us immediately at the Law Office of Joshua S. Reed. We have been helping others in your situation for more than 15 years, and we know how to handle claims adjusters. We also stand ready to protect your rights and interests if a lawsuit arises. Reach out immediately.