Are Parents Liable for Car Accidents Caused by Their Children in North Carolina?

In February, a 13-year-old driver was involved in a high-speed chase across multiple counties. The driver eventually crashed. The chase began Wednesday morning after someone said a man wearing a ski mask stole his vehicle. The driver was allegedly driving over 100 miles per hour. Eventually, he crashed near an intersection. Shockingly, he was not injured but was taken to a hospital nearby for evaluation.

Reckless driving by teenagers is extremely dangerous and can cause multiple injuries and fatalities. Suppose you have been injured by a teenage driver who was engaged in negligent or reckless behavior. In that case, you may be wondering whether you can pursue a claim for compensation from the teenager's parents. This is an important question because the consequences of auto accidents can be severe, especially when a reckless teenage driver is behind the wheel.

In Some Situations, Parents Can Be Held Liable for Injuries Caused by Their Teenagers

If you are the parent or guardian of a licensed driver who is a minor, you could be liable for injuries and losses caused by your child's driving under the Family Purpose Doctrine. If you have a child driving while performing a task for you, you may be liable under the agency doctrine. Generally, this will result in your auto insurance carrier paying for the damages caused by the accident.

If your teenager is at fault for an accident, a victim would probably pursue compensation from your insurance provider under a theory of vicarious liability or by pursuing a civil lawsuit against you directly. The legal theory of vicarious liability holds parents responsible for the damage caused by their children.

The Family Purpose Doctrine in North Carolina

According to the Family Purpose doctrine, a parent can be held liable for injuries caused by a child's car accident. However, the victim will need to prove that the teenager was on business for the family or running an errand for the family. North Carolina's Family Purpose Doctrine is an extension of the legal doctrine of agency. North Carolina Courts have held that the injured victim needs to prove four different elements to recover damages from the teenager's parents.

First, the victim needs to prove that the defendant's parents had control over the vehicle involved in the accident. Proving that the parents own the vehicle does not always prove they have control over it. The victim needs to prove that the person driving the vehicle had the right to control the vehicle at the time the accident happened. Courts will look at multiple factors when making this decision, such as monthly car payments, keeping the keys, paying for repairs, and having the ability to drive the vehicle.

The victim needs to prove that the child was living in the household. Suppose the teenager who caused the accident isn't currently living with their parents. In that case, the victim will not be able to hold the parents financially responsible for their injuries. The teenage driver does not have to be related to the vehicle's owner but needs to live in their household. Next, the victim needs to prove that the vehicle was owned, provided, and maintained for the family's use, pleasure, and convenience.

In other words, the victim needs to prove that the vehicle was being used as a family vehicle. If the victim can show that the vehicle was used for family outings or trips, grocery shopping, or taking family members to schools and activities, it will be easier to prove the doctrine of family purpose.

Finally, the victim needs to prove that the vehicle was being used with the express or implied consent of the owner or person in control of the vehicle when the accident occurred. If the parents had prohibited the driver from using the vehicle and the teenager did so anyway, it would be difficult to prove the Family Purpose Doctrine. Under the Family Purpose Doctrine, it is not enough to show that the parents own the vehicle to hold them liable for their child's recklessness. You must prove several relevant control factors to bring a claim against the parents successfully.

Contact an Experienced Car Accident Attorney in Charlotte

If you have been seriously injured in a car accident in Charlotte caused by a teenager, it is crucial that you reach out to an attorney immediately. Proving the Family Purpose Doctrine can be challenging. The attorneys Arnold & Smith, PLLC, are prepared to fight for your right to compensation. Do not hesitate to contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC, to schedule a complimentary case evaluation and learn more about how we can fight for you.

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