Liability of Parents for Teenage Drivers

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, teenage drivers (age 16 to 19) are three times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than drivers over the age of 20.  In the face of these statistics, the Wisconsin Senate has passed a bill which would limit the amount of money a person could recover from a negligent teenage driver’s parents.    

Currently, in Wisconsin, parents are responsible for any harm caused by their child who is under age 18. In fact, the teen driver must be sponsored by a parent who actually signs for the teen to be allowed to obtain a license and agrees to be responsible for the harm caused by the teenager.  Under the proposed legislation, parents would only be responsible for up to $300,000.00 for the harm caused by their teenage child. 

So let’s assume, the teenage driver was texting and crosses the center line and kills another driver and renders the passenger a quadriplegic.  The damages would be capped at $300,000 even though the medical bills and future care for the passenger would be in the millions of dollars and someone lost their life due to the teenage driver’s negligence.  

This discussion may have you wondering what the law is in Tennessee.  Tennessee has a statute similar to Wisconsin and imposes liability on the parent who signs a form that permits the teenager to obtain a driver’s license.  There is also a law that permits recovery of damages from the parents if the teenager was operating the vehicle for a family purpose.  While there are general rules capping damages on Tennessee personal injury and wrongful death cases of all types, there is not a separate, lower cap on the liability of parents. 

This is not as scary as it might seem for Tennessee parents.  True, the parents face responsibility for the acts of the teenage driver, but the solution is simple and straight-forward:  parents need to purchase adequate insurance to protect themselves and other folks on the roadways from the harm that may be inflicted by their teenage driver.  

Having represents many people  injured in car and truck wreck cases,  our firm routinely has clients who are injured by teens (and adults) who do not have adequate liability insurance to pay for the damages  that were caused  (medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, scarring and disfigurement, etc.).  In those situations, unless the at-fault party has substantial assets (which is next to never otherwise they would have plenty of insurance), the only other avenue of compensation for their injuries is underinsured/uninsured motorist coverage.  By purchasing uninsured/undersinsured motorist coverage, you can protect yourself against a driver who does not have an adequate amount of liability insurance coverage.  Click on the link to learn more about Tennessee uninsured /underinsured motorist insurance.

I have two children who have driver’s licenses – one 22 and one 19.  I know how much car insurance costs for teenagers.  I know how those rates are impacted by fender-benders and speeding tickets.  I also know that the right thing to do is to purchase an adequate amount of liability insurance to be available for anyone injured by their driving mistakes.  The proposed Wisconsin law is just plain wrong, and as is all too typical these days as special interest groups seek to protect select groups of  people and corporations at the expense of those injured and killed by the negligence of others.