If you are the parent of a young adult driver, you know the joy of taking off the chauffeur’s hat, the pride of watching them drive all by themselves, and the anxiety of waiting for them when they are late. But one thing you may not know is this: If your child causes an auto accident, you may be held legally responsible. Now, go back and reread that sentence.
Now, utter your favorite stress-relieving phrase. It’s not just Colorado—all fifty states have ways of holding parents responsible for accidents caused by their children, whether by making parents co-signers on licenses, assigning strict liability to whomever owns the family car, or other means. Colorado is one of 20 states with a version of a family car doctrine, a law that holds family members liable for accidents caused by minor children or legal dependents. In Colorado, there are several conditions that must be met for a court to apply the doctrine, including:
- The liable parent must be head of the household.
- The driver must be a member of the household.
- The liable parent must have control over the vehicle.
- The vehicle must have been used with the parent’s express or implied permission.
- The driver’s negligence must have caused damage to the plaintiff.
Are There Ways to Avoid It?
In Colorado, parents may escape the Family Car Doctrine’s shadow once a child is out of the house and financially independent. Yikes. During a child’s not-quite-adulting years, how can parents minimize their financial risk?
There is no way to prevent every scenario imaginable, but there are steps to take. Make sure to have adequate insurance coverage, especially liability, uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage, and an umbrella policy. These policies help protect against your child’s potential negligence or damage caused to them by an uninsured driver (a very high-risk group). Make sure your child has adequate training and practice before they get their license. Set a good example when you drive (no texting!)
Negligence a Key Factor
Take heart, too. Remember, a young driver must be negligent for the Family Car Doctrine to apply. An accident alone does not put parents’ finances at risk. The law exists so injured people can get compensation in the case of a truly bad accident caused by negligence of the driver.
The law also exists to make parents think. Is your child the type to go 90 mph on a residential street after curfew? If so, might not want to share those keys.
Article by Molly Fuscher