Can parents be liable for their child’s car accident?

During the summer months when children are on vacation from school, the likelihood that some of them will be spending more time behind the wheel increases. With that increase of driving frequency, the chance of an auto accident may also increase.

If a young person was involved and driving a vehicle he or she did not own, the question as to whether his or her parents may be held responsible for letting him or her drive it may arise. The legal basis for such a claim is a variation of vicarious liability called negligent entrustment; and in the case of a parent letting a child drive a car which he or she gets into an accident with, it also goes by the description, the family car doctrine. 

This post provides only an overview of the concept of negligent entrustment. Proving a case of negligent entrustment can be a complex matter and is highly fact-specific.

Texas is one state that recognizes the claim of negligent entrustment for car accidents. To prevail in court on such a claim, the plaintiff must meet the following elements: 

  • The owner of the vehicle must have entrusted it to the person driving it at the time of the accident;
  • The driver must have been unlicensed, reckless or incompetent, and the owner knew, or should have known of that unlicensed status, recklessness or incompetence;
  • The driver was negligent at the time of the accident, and that negligence was the proximate cause of the accident.

What can be of interest in the elements above is the simultaneous application of recklessness and negligence standards. For example, although it may need to be shown that the parents knew that their child was prone to recklessness at the time they gave him or her car keys, the conduct leading to the accident itself need only be negligent and not reckless.

If negligent entrustment is proven in a car accident, then the parents can be held liable for a car accident that their child gets into.