Who's Liable If My Child's Friend Crashes Her Car?

Young females riding in a car
It can be scary enough thinking about a child out on the road in their own car with so many dangers around. Combine road hazards with statistics showing young drivers' high likelihood of being in a traffic accident, and parents might be tempted to take the keys away. One risk that parents might not think of is the possibility of their children lending out their vehicle, specifically to another young driver. If the young motorist borrows the auto and is involved in a collision, the liability can be placed on the child or even parents, which can cause insurance rates to increase.

Kids make many decisions that may not make much sense to their parents, and unfortunately one of those decisions may be handing over the keys to thousands of pounds capable of causing major damage to one of their friends. If the driver was given permission to drive the car by the owner, the liability will often stick with the owner, and the auto insurance coverage will follow the vehicle. Therefore, injuries or damages should be covered by the auto owner's bodily injury and property damage liability coverage, up to the purchased auto insurance limits.

Should the accident-related expenses exceed the auto insurance policy limits, the owner will likely be responsible for paying any remaining costs. In a case where the child who owns the vehicle is not of legal age—18 in most states—the parents or guardians can be held liable. Until a child turns the legal age, he or she is the responsibility of the parents, and because a lawsuit cannot be filed against a minor, the plaintiff would have to go after the parents for compensation.

The easiest way to avoid being liable for the actions of a child is to set ground rules. First of which would be to never let someone borrow a vehicle, especially without the parents' knowledge. This would eliminate the possibility of being sued because of the actions of others who operate the automobile. If the child is 18 and owns the automobile, then it may not be necessary to set this rule since it's the child's vehicle and ultimately their responsibility. But parents should still warn them of the potential consequences of lending out cars.
Teenage boy in a car holding the key
Many parents do not allow children to get a driver's license until they turn 18, which can be a smart move. Although teens won't be too happy with mom and dad, not letting a teen get licensed before being of legal age will protect parents from accident-related lawsuits, unless the underage teenager took the car without permission. Additionally, an 18-year-old is likely to be more responsible than a 16-year-old, will no longer be the parents' liability, and could probably find more affordable car insurance quotes because of being considered less of a risk to insure.