Can a parent be liable for the costs of an accident caused by a teenager?

Rhode Island is a “fault” state in car accident cases. This mean, the person who is legally at fault for the accident is responsible and must pay for damages or injuries resulting from the crash. But if the person who caused the crash is under 18 years old, who is responsible for paying for medical bills and vehicle damage? Liability for an at-fault teenage driver

Parents May Be Liable for the Cost of a Teen’s Car Crash

Under Rhode Island parental responsibility laws, parents can be held financially responsible for injuries or damages caused by minor children. While the state sets the age of majority at 18, teenagers may be granted full licenses when they are 17 years old and six months. If the accident occurs in the months before the teenager’s 18th birthday, victims could potentially sue the parents of a child responsible for the crash.

A parent may be forced to pay the costs for a teenager’s accident due to:

  • Malicious acts. Rhode Island General Laws Section 9-1-3 provides that parents can be liable if their unemancipated minor “willfully or maliciously” causes damage to a person or property. As long as it is established that the minor would be liable for the accident if he had been an adult, the parents can assume that liability. However, parental liability is capped at $1,500 for any single act.
  • Insurance coverage. The car insurance required by Rhode Island law may be in a parent’s name with the teenager as a “named insured,” forcing the parent’s insurer to pay for the costs of the crash. This may be in addition to collecting the $1,500 under Section 9-1-3.
  • Claims against the minor. Under the law, parents are jointly and severally liable with their child for causing harm and property damage, so a victim can seek damages from the parent and child collectively, as well as individually. Victims can file a claim again the minor for any unpaid losses not covered by insurance or the claim against the parents. In many cases, minors do not have the funds to cover these costs, forcing the parents to assume liability.

If you were in an accident with an at-fault, underage driver, we can help. Contact Kirshenbaum & Kirshenbaum via our online contact form to schedule an initial consultation with an injury attorney at no cost to you.