When automobile accidents occur, drivers or their insurance companies, or both, are typically liable for any injury or property damage. However, when minor drivers are involved in car accidents, who is responsible for the resulting costs?
In some states, like Colorado, the liability may fall on the parents, who may or may not have heard about a law known as the family car doctrine. Parents should know this law’s main points and how to financially protect themselves if their children are involved in automobile accidents while driving.
Family Car Doctrine
About 20 states have family car doctrine laws, which address scenarios where vehicle owners allow family members, including minors or legal dependants over 18, to drive their cars. If a motor vehicle accident happens when one of these family members is driving, the owners are held liable for the resulting injuries or vehicle damage.
Colorado’s family car doctrine contains four elements that must be met before courts will apply the law to a case. A liable parent must be the head of household, have control over the vehicle, the person driving must be a member of the household, and the vehicle must have been used with the parent’s express or implied permission. Courts may also hold parents liable for their children’s negligence if they serve them alcohol or know they are dangerous or unlicensed drivers, but still allow them to drive the household vehicles.
Parents can neither prepare for nor prevent the range of scenarios that may occur when their children begin driving. However, as a precaution, many legal advisors recommend that parents purchase and maintain automobile insurance policies, which have ample liability and uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage. These additional policies, in conjunction with the main policy, can work to financially protect parents from their children’s potential negligence or from any serious injuries or vehicle damage caused by uninsured or underinsured drivers.
Minor drivers must demonstrate the same duty of care to drive safely and follow traffic laws as their adult counterparts. When they do not, they not only endanger themselves and others on the roads, but they may also create liability issues for their parents if automobile accidents happen, especially in states with the family car doctrine like Colorado.
If your child was involved in a car accident, contact an experienced Colorado personal injury attorney to discuss your potential liability and what steps you can take to financially protect yourself and your family.
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