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Easley Law Firm

Can I be held liable for a traffic accident if my child was the one who was driving?

Every teenager counts down the days until he can get his license and drive on his own. However, every parent dreads the day that his child is legally able to drive. The overwhelming fear that he could get hurt or hurt someone else is almost too much to handle. However, just as your parents and your parents’ parents got over it, you must as well. After all, he’s growing up and you have to teach him to be responsible for his actions.

Unfortunately, although that sounds all well and good and may help you sleep at night, when it comes to teenage drivers, responsibility may still fall on your shoulders. In fact, your child’s mistake could land you in prison, trying to defend a crime you didn’t commit.

Vicarious Liability and What it Means for Your Family  

Vicarious liability is a legal doctrine that was initially created to hold parents responsible for their underage children’s actions. Since children under the age of 18 weren’t considered legally competent, the consequences and financial responsibilities of their traffic tickets fell to their guardians. Today, as competency laws are becoming more and more lax, vicarious liability has also become less strict. However, there are still cases where teenage accidents can still be blamed on parents. This is why it is extremely important for you and your child to understand when, where, and how vicarious liability is determined.

The three different cases for traffic accident and violation liability are as follows:

  1. The teenage driver is liable. In most cases, when a teenager breaks the law or causes an accident, he will be ticketed or charged for his own actions (as long as he has a license and is deemed physically and mentally competent to be driving). In these cases, the teenager is responsible for any ramifications, including fines, lawsuits, etc.
  2. Parental liability. If the implicated teenager has had previous incidents of erratic, dangerous, or improper driving behavior (of which his parents are fully aware) and is allowed to drive by his parents anyway, they could be considered liable for his actions. Since they knew or should have known the child had a propensity for the behavior that caused the accident, then they are responsible for his actions as well. In addition, parents may be liable for other teenagers’ actions if they allowed drinking and driving on their property.
  3. The Family Purpose Doctrine. This doctrine states that the registered owner of a vehicle is liable for any damage that a family member causes when using his vehicle. Therefore, if you give your consent for a family member to use your vehicle and then he causes an accident, you’re liable for any and all damages

If you find yourself being charged or sued because of vicarious liability laws, contact us today at 703-865-6610 for the advice you need to set up a defense.

Darwyn L. Easley
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Attorney and Counsellor at Law

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Easley Law Firm

  • 10521 Judicial Drive
    Suite 205

    Fairfax, VA 22030
  • Phone: 703-865-6610
  • Fax: 703-842-6101
  • Toll Free: 888-386-3898
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