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The Family Car Doctrine: Are Parents Liable for Children's Car Accidents?

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    The Family Car Doctrine: Are Parents Liable for Children's Car Accidents?

    In Washington, a parent can be held liable for injury or damages caused by a family member driver if:

    • The vehicle is owned, provided or maintained by the parent and used for family activities;
    • The family member was driving the car at the time of the accident; and
    • The vehicle was used with the express or implied permission of the parent.

    Courts will consider a few factors in assessing whether a parent is the “owner” of a vehicle. Some of these factors are:

    • Who paid for the vehicle?
    • Who had the right to control the use of the vehicle?
    • Whose name is on the vehicle title?

    What This Means To You

    The point of the doctrine is to make sure that no one suffers because they’ve been in a collision with a young driver or other family member who doesn’t have their own vehicle and insurance. Making the vehicle owner responsible for family member’s actions provides them an incentive to make sure they have provided for insurance coverage that will cover the family member.

    This protects you when involved in a collision with a young driver. On the other hand, it’s important to realize that if you let any family member use your car, you will likely be found responsible for any negligent injuries or damage they cause.

    Consequently, it is very important that you make sure your automobile insurance covers any vehicle that you let someone use, and that the person you let drive is also covered.

    Families have gotten in trouble with this for example when they have not been paying for insurance on a vehicle that has been sitting idle. Always insure a vehicle prior to driving it or allowing a family member (or friend) to drive it.

    Also, sometimes children have bad driving records and so parents have them specifically excluded from insurance policies to prevent being charged high premiums. If you do this, you must absolutely never let them drive your vehicles! There is no “occasional use” exception. If they cause injury or damage they will not be covered by your insurance, but you will still be financially responsibility.

    Just remember to always have all your vehicles and family members insured. And even though the Family Car Doctrine is there to protect you, sometimes drivers still are uninsured, so always add Uninsured Motorist Coverage to your policy!

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    Larry A. Lehmbecker
    Firm Founder, Larry Lehmbecker, has nearly 40 year’s of experience fighting for the injured in Washington State. He is always eager to share his knowledge to help those in need.
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