What Is Vicarious Liability?

Law Blog

When a minor is involved in an accident — the parents of the teen often find themselves right in the middle of the process, and not just in a supportive role. In some states, a law known as vicarious liability can actually put the parents at risk of responsibility for any damages or injuries caused by their child. All parents of teen drivers should understand this statute and learn how it might affect them.

Vicarious Liability

In simple terms, vicarious liability is a fancy way of saying that a parent has a shared responsibility for the accident based on their connection with the child driver. As a result, if the driver or other entity who suffers damage due to an accident decides to file a suit against the teen driver, they may also legally file a suit against the parents of the driver. 

Consequently, depending on the extent of the damage, the other driver can target your assets to help cover the cost of their losses. The idea behind this law is an idea that parents should be aware of and supervise their child's actions, and be held responsible when their actions are irresponsible. 

Joint Responsibility

It's important to understand that just because you are the parent of a teen driver at fault for an accident, it does not automatically mean you are at risk for vicarious liability. In order for an individual or entity to file suit against you, you must have joint or shared responsibility for the teen driver. 

In some states, in order for a minor to obtain a driver's license, a parent or legal guardian of the child must also sign their driver application. The signing of the application is, in essence, a statement that you agree to be liable for any damages the driver causes. If you have signed your child's license application, it's highly likely you will be held responsible through vicarious liability. 

Change in Custody

As if the matter wasn't complicated enough, there is an important caveat to this type of liability, and it's known as a change in custody. For example, say you signed for your child to get their license at 16. However, during the same year, you and the parent divorced, and the other parent was awarded sole custody of the child. 

If the accident occurs after the custody change, you cannot be held responsible for their actions, and would likely not fall under the vicarious liability statute because you no longer have a custodial role with the child. 

Has your teen driver been involved in an accident? Contact an attorney for auto accident lawyer services to protect your assets and your family.


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