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Can You Be At Fault For a Car Accident if You Are Not 16?

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Motorists, whether they are freshly licensed sixteen-year-olds or retired drivers who have decades of experience behind the wheel, are held to the same legal standard to exercise reasonable caution and to obey the rules of the road. Any driver who breaches this duty, whether they are driving recklessly or distractedly, could be held liable for any injuries they cause.

If you are a licensed driver, you owe a duty of care to other motorists, passengers, motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians. When a driver’s negligent behavior causes a crash, they could be held civilly liable for any damages or injuries they cause. This means that either the driver, or their auto insurer, could be held financially responsible for the victim’s medical bills, lost income, and other losses.

What if the driver is under the age of sixteen? An unlicensed driver is still accountable for their actions and minors could be held legally liable for the injuries they cause. However, collecting a financial judgment from a minor is difficult. In some states, you might be able to pursue a liability claim against the parents. This is also challenging unless the state has a specific statute that imposes liability on the parents. Our Arkansas car accident lawyers are familiar with the complexities involved in holding minors liable in civil court. To discuss this type of case in more detail, call our law offices at (479) 316-0438.

Holding Minors Financially Responsible

Legally, a driver under the age of sixteen is responsible for the damages and injuries they cause. However, it is almost impossible to obtain financial compensation from a minor. Therefore, an accident victim will likely attempt to pursue a personal injury claim against the minor’s parent or guardian.

Vicarious liability is the legal theory where one person is held liable for the conduct of another. This theory is commonly used to hold an employer accountable for the behavior of their employees. To hold a parent or guardian liable for a child’s actions, the parent or guardian must exercise authority and control over the child. Therefore, in a vicarious liability case, a custodial parent is the parent that might be held legally reasonable. Parental vicarious liability is based upon a parent’s responsibility to guide, educate, and supervise their child.

Parental Vicarious Liability Statutes

Traditionally, parents cannot be held responsible for their children’s conduct. However, many states have institute parental vicarious liability statutes that impose responsibility on the parents for their child’s actions. For example, Arkansas imposes limited liability on parents and guardians when their child’s malicious or willful conduct results in the destruction of property belonging to a person, school district, religious organization, village, association, or municipal corporation. Additionally, a parent or guardian who signs an application for a driver’s license could be held liable for any injuries caused by the negligent behavior of their child.

Liability could also depend on the child’s pattern of behavior and the parent’s knowledge of such behavior. For example, if a minor had a history of stealing their parents’ keys to take the family car for a joyride, the parents might be held financially responsible if they failed to take reasonable precautions to address the child’s behavior. Therefore, leaving the car keys in a dish by the front door could be grounds to hold the parents liable.

Auto Insurance and Minor Drivers

Finding a minor child under the age of sixteen at fault is only part of the equation. To collect a monetary judgment, an injured victim needs access to a defendant’s assets. When you file a lawsuit against a negligent driver, for all practical matters, you are filing a claim against the driver’s insurance company. When a teen is learning to drive, the parent and vehicle owner is required to list the young motorist on their auto insurance. Therefore, if the teen causes an accident while under the supervision of their parent or guardian, it should be covered under the insurance policy. However, if the teen took the car without permission, an accident might not be covered. It is crucial to understand the terms of your policy.

If you are injured in a car accident caused by a minor driver, you might have to file a claim against your insurance company – either under your personal protection insurance (PPI) policy or an uninsured/underinsured policy. Our Arkansas personal injury attorneys have over twenty years of experience negotiating with insurance providers.

Another consideration is whether a car owner is responsible for an accident when someone took their vehicle without permission. Generally, if someone uses a car without the owner’s permission, they are responsible for any injuries or damages they cause. However, proving that permission was not granted, either expressed or implied, is difficult. Unless you reported a car stolen, the assumption would be that by giving the other driver access to your keys and car, you gave your permission. When the driver is an unlicensed minor, it might be easier to demonstrate that you did not give permission. Nonetheless, it opens the door to question whether reasonable steps were taken to prevent the child from using your vehicle.

Our Arkansas Car Accident Lawyers Offer Free Consultations

The legal and liability issues stemming from an accident caused by an unlicensed minor are complicated and challenging. If your minor child was involved in a car accident, or if you were injured in an accident caused by a minor, contact our experienced Bella Vista personal injury lawyers immediately. Because questions regarding fault and liability are difficult to answer, you need competent legal representation to protect your rights. To schedule a free appointment at one of our convenient law offices, call (479) 316-0438.

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