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Are Parents Liable for an Accident Caused by Their Teen?

Mark A. Simon, Attorney at Law Sept. 21, 2023

Parenting is both a rewarding and challenging experience. When children enter their teen years, those challenges may be magnified, especially when they obtain their driver’s license and get into their first car accident.  

Statistically speaking, teenagers are more likely to cause automobile crashes compared to their older counterparts. As a result, you as a parent may wonder if you can be held liable for accidents caused by your teenage child. The answer depends on the conditions of your case.  

If your child has been in an accident, it is vital to discuss your situation with an experienced attorney. Mark A. Simon, Attorney at Law, can help you understand Colorado’s parental responsibility laws when it comes to accidents involving teenage drivers. Our law office is based in Denver, Colorado, but we also serve the surrounding area, including Arvada, Aurora, Centennial, Lakewood, Englewood, Commerce City, Thornton, and Wheatridge.  

Liability for Accidents in Colorado

Colorado follows the traditional, fault-based system for auto insurance, which means the driver responsible for the accident (or, to be more exact, their insurance company) must pay for the damages to the other party(s) involved. Thus, when a teenage child causes a car accident, their liability coverage will pay for the damages and losses caused to other people involved in the crash.  

However, given that drivers under the age of 18 are generally not allowed to purchase auto insurance policies on their own, most teenage drivers are covered by their parent’s auto insurance. Another law that may come into play when determining liability for a car accident caused by your teenage child is comparative negligence.  

Colorado adheres to the modified comparative negligence system, which means victims are allowed to obtain compensation as long as they are less than 50% responsible for the accident. If the investigation shows that the other party involved in the accident was 51% or more at fault for causing the crash, they will be barred from recovering any damages. If your child is entitled to compensation, their recovery will be reduced by the degree of their fault.  

Are Parents Liable for an Accident Caused by Their Teen?

In Colorado, the age of majority is 18. When a child turns 18, they become an adult and are no longer a minor in the eyes of the law. Until a child’s 18th birthday, the parents can be held liable under the parental responsibility law. In particular, parental responsibility extends to three areas of law: 

  • Bodily injury 

  • Property damage 

  • Theft and shoplifting 

Depending on the facts of each particular case, a parent or legal guardian may be considered negligent if they knew or should have known about the child’s recklessness and their propensity to endanger the physical well-being or property of other people and failed to take appropriate steps to prevent harm.  

In fact, parental responsibility laws apply regardless of whether the child caused property damages or bodily injury to another person accidentally or willfully. For this reason, if a teenage driver hits another car and the occupants of that vehicle get injured, the teenager’s parents could be held liable under Colorado’s parental responsibility laws.  

However, Colorado law sets a cap on the actual damages a parent can be responsible for. In both property damage and personal injury claims, the state limits the amount a parent must pay at $3,500 per injured person, plus attorney fees and court costs, if appropriate.  

Will Insurance Cover the Expenses?

All drivers in the state of Colorado must purchase auto insurance that meets the state’s minimum requirements. Given that teen drivers are more prone to accidents, it is important to make sure that your child has adequate coverage beyond the minimum requirements. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, teenagers ages 16 to 19 have the highest risk of automobile accidents compared to any other age group in the United States. Without adequate coverage for your teen child, you may end up paying more money out of pocket if your child crashes the car and causes significant property damage and/or injuries.   

Can a Parent Be Sued in a Personal Injury Lawsuit?

Generally, yes, a parent can be sued in a personal injury lawsuit if their teenage child is responsible for an automobile accident. Colorado follows the doctrine of negligent entrustment that dictates under which circumstances the owner of a motor vehicle can be held responsible for accidents caused by other individuals operating their vehicle, including their own children.  

Under Colorado law, negligent entrustment applies when it can be proven that the vehicle owner knew or should have known that the entrustee (the person entrusted with the vehicle) was reckless or incompetent. However, proving that the parent was or should have been aware of the unreasonable risk to the safety of others posed by the entrustee’s driving can be difficult. Nonetheless, the possibility of the injured party filing a lawsuit against you, as the parent, should not be ruled out.  

Helping You Get the Support You Deserve

If your teenage child gets into a car accident, you may have a lot of questions about what to do next and whether or not you could be held financially responsible for the accident. At Mark A. Simon, Attorney at Law, we help both teenage drivers and their parents handle the insurance claims process and navigate the legal complexities surrounding parental responsibility and negligent entrustment laws. Contact our office today to protect your rights.