If my son got in an accident, how liable am I?

UPDATED: Oct 1, 2022

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If my son got in an accident, how liable am I?

My 18 year old son was recently involed in an auto accident where he was at fault turning left and not yeilding the right of way. The other party had multiple fractures and may not be willing to settle for the limit amount on my insurance. The car is registered to me and is insured by me. As far as assets I only have my house which I live in and my state pension. My son was alone in the car at the time and only had his learners permit. My insurance limits are 50/100k for liability. Even though I wasn’t driving, I was wondering how liable I am for the accident. Also, if the other party has an attorney, if they decide to sue could they both of us? If they did, how likely is each case and if they did get a judgement would they be able to take my house and pension or how do judgements work when you don’t have cash sitting in the bank to pay them?

Asked on November 9, 2018 under Accident Law, California


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

You are as fully liable as your son: a car's owner is liable when someone whom he permits to drive (which means anyone who did not steal his car and whom he did not report to the police for theft) is at fault in causing an accident. 
They can sue both you and your son. If they win, the two of your are liable together for the full judgment--or in this case, the full judgment in excess of insurnace (e.g. say you had $50,000 of insurance and they get a judgment against the two of you for $150k: you'd have to come up with the other $100k.)
While we say that they could sue you and your son, they don't have to: they can sue either of you (their choice who) or both. If your son has nothing but you have a house, they may choose to sue only you.
Your pension should be safe from them: the vast majority of retirement savings plans (e.g. IRAs or 401ks) and pensions, as well as Social Security, cannot be garnished.
They can however put a lien on your home if they get a judgment against you and you do not pay, and that lien could be used to force a sale of your home, after which the proceeds will be applied first to any mortgage on the home, second to the lien, and third, any remaining amounts come to you.

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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