Can Parents be Held Liable If Their Teen Causes a Car Accident?

teenager driving while distracted causes a crashTeenage drivers are at a higher risk of being involved in a car accident due to their inexperience, lack of acquired skills and tendency to get distracted.

If your teen causes a crash, can you be held liable for any resulting injuries and damages suffered by the other party? The short answer is yes.

Our Oshkosh auto accident lawyers discuss parental liability when your son or daughter gets behind the wheel. We also address how the other party may be eligible to take legal action against a teenager’s parents under Wisconsin’s parental responsibility laws.

Learn more about your available options for pursuing compensation during an initial consultation at no cost or obligation to you. We also charge no upfront fees and only get paid if you obtain a recovery.

Paying for Damages After a Crash Caused by a Teenage Driver

Although a parent may not have been in the car when the accident happened, his or her auto insurance is often used to pay for damages from a crash caused by a teenage driver. This is usually the case since the teen is on his or her parent’s auto insurance policy. The liability insurance on that policy will likely cover the other party’s damages, up to the policy limits.

In Wisconsin, teens under 18 years of age must be sponsored by an adult in order to get a learner’s permit and then a driver’s license, unless they live on their own. The sponsorship, typically by one or both parents or guardians, also makes the sponsor accountable if the teen causes a car accident.

Under state law, parents who sign their teen’s driver’s license application assume joint and civil liability. This means you and your teen share liability for any accidents where he or she was deemed at fault. The injured party may be eligible to pursue compensation for the cost of medical treatment and other-related losses.

Sponsoring a teen driver also requires having at least the minimum amount of liability coverage ($10,000 for property damage/$25,000 for injuries to one person/$50,000 for injuries to two or more people). This includes uninsured motorist coverage ($25,000 per person/$50,000 per accident).

Some parents may decide to add their teens to an existing auto insurance policy. In the event of a crash, the liability portion of your policy (unlike other auto insurance) will follow the driver, not the car.

After a teen turns 18, he or she no longer needs adult sponsorship. Teens can get a car and purchase liability insurance on their own. If your older teen is involved in an accident, he or she may then be held liable for any injuries and damages caused.

Wisconsin’s Parental Responsibility Law

Most car accidents involving teens are due to negligence. For instance, driving while texting or talking on a cellphone, speeding, or operating a car under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Yet, there could be some cases in which the teenage driver acted with willful or malicious intent. These actions are covered by Wisconsin’s parental responsibility law. The law says parents could be held financially liable for certain harm resulting from his or her teen’s conduct.

Although a teen may be to blame in a crash, insurance policies may not cover willful or malicious actions. A parent may not be able to use his or her auto insurance policy to pay for damages. If the other party decides to take legal action, the teen’s parents may be responsible for damages. 

It is important to note that a parent’s financial liability is capped at $5,000 for any single act intentionally committed by his or her teen. This means that the other party cannot recover more than this amount from the parent, regardless of how much harm or damage was caused by the teen’s actions. 

How Parents Can Promote Safe Driving Habits

There are several ways parents can promote safe driving habits in their teens to help avoid an accident:

  • Have an in-depth conversation with your teen about responsible driving behavior
  • Go out with your teen and help him or her practice driving in different conditions
  • Set ground rules on the use of electronic devices (i.e. cellphones, radio, GPS)
  • Restrict driving at night and the number of passengers
  • Be a good role model and practice safe driving when behind the wheel

The bottom line is parents have more influence on their teens than they may realize. The more involved you are in their driving habits from the start, the better equipped a teen will be to share the road with others.

Get the Legal Help You Need Today

With nearly 100 years of combined legal experience, our firm has obtained millions in compensation for accident victims and their families throughout Wisconsin. We know what it takes to go against the insurance company and fight for the compensation you need.

Set up a free legal consultation today. You are not obligated after this meeting to have us represent you. However, if you decide to, we charge nothing up front for our services. 

Sigman Janssen. A Firm You Can Trust. Ph: (877) 888-5201