Am I Liable if My Teen Driver Causes a Car Accident?

June 8, 2023
By admin

In specific circumstances in North Carolina, if a teen driver causes a car accident, their parents or guardians may be liable for the losses and injuries from that crash. The state’s “family purpose doctrine” defines those circumstances and establishes when the teen’s parents through their insurance carriers will be obligated to compensate the injured party.

For almost 35 years, our personal injury attorneys at Rhine Law Firm in Wilmington have helped injured motorists collect the largest damages awards for injuries caused by a car accident. This includes the parents of teen drivers, where the family purpose doctrine enables those awards.

When does the family purpose doctrine create parental/guardian liability for a teen driver’s accident?

Under North Carolina’s family purpose doctrine, a car accident lawyer for the victim must prove three elements to hold a parent or guardian liable for injuries that resulted from an accident caused by a teen driver:

  • The teen was a member or household of the person who had control over the vehicle (usually but not always the owner.)
  • The car was owned, provided, and maintained for the household’s general use and convenience.
  • The car’s owner or the person who controlled access to the car gave express or implied consent to the teen to use the car.

Although these elements might appear self-evident, North Carolina courts apply them very strictly. Generally, they hold an injured party’s attorney to a high bar before they impose liability on a teen driver’s parents or guardians. 

Young woman suffering from neck whiplash, sitting in drivers seat of her car

How do parents or guardians protect themselves when they have teen drivers in their households?

The most frequently debated aspect of the family purpose doctrine is whether the teen’s parents or guardians had control over the vehicle. For example, control will not be established just because the car is registered in a parent’s or guardian’s name. Moreover, if the teen is the car’s primary driver, pays for fuel and maintenance, and always retains the keys, a North Carolina court will not necessarily apply the family purpose doctrine. Finally, if a car is used primarily for business purposes, a court may conclude that it is not owned or maintained for the family’s general use and convenience.  

Can parents be sued in a personal injury lawsuit for their teenager’s accident?

Suppose the facts suggest that the parents controlled a teen’s vehicle when an accident happened. In that case, an experienced lawyer will include the parents in a lawsuit to recover compensation. The parents will likely respond with one or more affirmative defenses that they did not control the car or that it was not used or maintained for the family’s benefit. The injured party’s lawyers will then analyze the facts to challenge those affirmative defenses and to claim the full amount of damages from all liable parties that an injured party deserves to recover.

Call Rhine Law Firm today for a free consultation

Our North Carolina car accident attorneys at the Rhine Law Firm in Wilmington have recovered hundreds of millions of dollars in damages for our injured clients. Call our offices as soon as you can after your auto accident to protect your right and opportunity to collect the compensation you are entitled to receive from all parties who are responsible for your losses and injuries.

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