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'Family Car' Doctrine: Liability for a Kid's Wreck

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. | Last updated on

Kids are all kinds of trouble. Especially when they're in trouble.

Unfortunately for all you parents out there, you might just be liable for whatever damage Junior has caused.

So if you're letting your kid--even over the age of 18--borrow the family car this year (for spring break or even just prom), think again. It may not be worth it.

Each state has passed a statute that deals with the issue of parental liability. Most of them impose some financial responsibility on parents should a child cause damage to another person's property or severe injury.

But, when it comes to motor vehicle accidents, parental liability law may be more stringent.

About half the states utilize something known as the "family car doctrine." Basically, the doctrine states that should the owner of a family car permit another family member to drive the car, then the owner is financially liable for any damage caused when driving. This may include children over the age of 18 who are still legal dependents.

Even if you don't live in a state that follows the "family car doctrine," you still may be liable for your child's car accidents.

Negligent entrustment picks up where parental liability and the "family car doctrine" let off. If you were somehow negligent in permitting your child to drive your car, you can be saddled with the bill. This usually happens if you were aware of a reason as to why your child shouldn't drive, yet allowed him to anyway.

Obviously part of being a parent is trusting your kids despite the nagging fear that something will go wrong. If you still decide to send your child off with the family car for spring break, good luck. At the very least, if there's an accident, you'll know to immediately call a lawyer.

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