If my adult child is in a car accident, can I still be financially liable?

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If my adult child is in a car accident, can I still be financially liable?

The child lives away from the home (at college) and the car title and car insurance is in their name only. We are providing financial support.

Asked on March 4, 2014 under Accident Law, California


FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 8 years ago | Contributor

When parents give their child the keys to the family car to go and hang out with friends or buy them their own car, then several issues pertaining to the liability of the parents in the event that the child gets involved in an accident can arise. In some case scenarios, parents can be held personally responsible for an incident on the road, even if it’s quite clear that drugs or alcohol were involved. A court of law can hold you responsible if:

  • You live in the same house as your son or daughter and you are considered the head of the house.
  • The vehicle involved in the accident is the family leisure vehicle.
  • You gave express or implied permission to your child to drive the vehicle.

Sometimes parents can be implicated by the court and held responsible even if they live away from the house and were not present at the time of the accident. However, handing over the car keys does not automatically make you liable in the event of any accident. The driver, in the majority of cases, is held responsible for his or her own actions. Negligence is considered personal and that means the driver is at fault for his or her actions. The extent of liability of the parent will also depend on the state you live in. Some states seldom implicate parents while others are stricter.

Think Twice Before Handing Over the Keys

Any excess damages resulting from the accident that are not covered by the driver’s car insurance plan will require out-of-pocket payment by the driver. The court will try to ascertain whether this is the child’s first accident or if there is any clear-cut evidence that the child’s driving skills are inadequate. If the court finds that you, as the parent, knew very well that the driver’s skills were below par but still allowed him or her to drive your vehicle, then you will likely be held responsible for negligent entrustment. In case your son or daughter has been involved in previous accidents, then it is generally not a good idea to let him or her drive the family car. Should another incident occur, the parents will most likely be held accountable for allowing the child to drive.

These cases tend to be more complex if you are the car’s registered owner and your child is still a minor (below the age of 18 years). If you live in Florida and would like to give a car to your 16 or 17 year old teenager, then have it registered in your own name. You can also register the car using someone else’s name as long as they are adults. Alternatively, you can set up a trust and name the child as the trust’s beneficiary. This limits your liability in case of any unfortunate incidents.

In summary, if you are the registered owner of the vehicle and your child gets involved in a road accident while driving it, you could be held liable by the courts if you gave authorization for the use of the car. The best way to limit your liability is to make sure that the car is only registered in your child’s name or through a trust if the child is still a minor.

Answer: Based upon what you have written, you would not be responsible for any damages that your adult child may have caused.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although AttorneyPages.com has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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