Tensed teenage girl after car accident

Are Parents Liable for an Accident Caused by Their Teen?

Paul Benson Law Firm July 20, 2023

Obtaining a driver’s license is an exciting time for every teenager in the United States. However, what you need to understand is that young drivers are not adults yet, which is why parents can be legally responsible when their teenage children cause an accident on the road. Of course, a parent’s liability for an accident caused by their child depends on many factors, including the jurisdiction and the facts of each individual case. 

If your teenage child has been involved in an accident and you want to know whether or not you can be held liable for it, contact The Paul Benson Law Firm. As a personal injury attorney, I can explain how parental liability works in the state of Wisconsin. From my office in Janesville, Wisconsin, I am proud to serve clients in Beloit and the rest of Rock County.  

Liability for Accidents in Wisconsin

Before we delve into the topic of parental liability, you need to understand how liability works in general. Wisconsin is a tort state, which means injured victims can sue the at-fault party for their damages and losses. For example, when a car accident occurs, the injured victim can file a third-party insurance claim against the at-fault driver’s insurance provider to obtain compensation. In some cases (e.g., when the at-fault does not have insurance or a settlement is not reached), it may be more appropriate to file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver.  

Are Parents Liable for an Accident Caused by Their Teen?

In Wisconsin, you can get a learner’s permit at the age of 15 as long as you are sponsored by an adult. Once a teen turns 16, they can obtain a driver’s license through sponsorship by an adult. The only exception to the sponsorship requirement is if the teen lives on their own.  

Generally speaking, being a sponsor makes the sponsor (usually the teen’s parent) responsible in the event the teenager is at fault for causing a car crash because, under Wisconsin law, parents who sign the teen’s driver’s license application assume joint and several liability for any negligent or willful conduct of their child when it comes to operating a motor vehicle.  

Under Wisconsin law, the sponsor’s liability is capped at $300,000 or at the limit of the applicable insurance coverage, whichever is greater.  

Will Insurance Cover the Expenses?

Most of the time, parents add a teenage driver to their existing auto insurance policy once their child obtains a driver’s license. Liability coverage follows the driver no matter who is behind the wheel of the vehicle, which means it can cover the damages caused to other parties.  

However, it often happens that the insurance will not cover all of the damages caused by the teen driver, which could potentially make the parents liable. If a teen driver causes an accident when they are not covered on the policy or they do not have a valid driver’s license, there will be no insurance coverage. When the expenses exceed the policy limits, the parent may also be held responsible for the remaining costs.  

Can a Parent Be Sued in a Personal Injury Lawsuit?

Generally, yes. A parent can be sued in a personal injury lawsuit if their child causes someone’s injuries. However, in order to sue a parent for their child’s misconduct in a personal injury lawsuit, the plaintiff must prove negligence by establishing the following elements:  

  1. The parent allowed their child to drive or access the vehicle;  

  1. The parent knew or should have known about the teen driver’s irresponsible driving behaviors;   

  1. The teen driver was responsible for the accident; and 

  1. The plaintiff suffered damages and losses because of the teen driver’s actions.  

In other words, just because the parent owns the car the child was driving at the time of the accident does not automatically make the parent liable for the accident. The injured party may still need to prove the above-mentioned elements in order to obtain compensation.  

Strong Legal Representation

If you are a parent whose child has recently been involved in an accident, it’s important to reach out to legal counsel. I can explain whether or not you can be held responsible as a parent and help strategize a path forward. At The Paul Benson Law Firm, I represent drivers of all ages—as well as their parents—in personal injury cases, whether they are the victim or the liable party. Reach out to my office today to set up a consultation.