Inexperience and other factors contribute to teen drivers causing accidents at higher rates than other drivers. In 2020, 1,486 occupants of other vehicles died in car accidents involving a teenage driver.
If a teenager caused a wreck that resulted in serious injuries or the death of a loved one, you may be able to seek compensation. However, many teenagers have little to no assets. Can you sue their parents instead?
Tennessee parental responsibility laws
Children under the age of 18 cannot legally own a vehicle in Tennessee unless they are emancipated from their parents. Most teenage drivers operate vehicles that their parents own. Vehicle owners are generally liable for damages caused by someone they allow to drive their vehicle. In most cases, your first recourse is to file a claim with the vehicle owner’s auto insurance.
Family purpose doctrine
Most of the time, proving that the parents own the vehicle that the teenager was driving is enough to establish parental liability for damage caused by a teen driver. However, the Family Purpose Doctrine may provide an additional avenue for establishing liability. Under this doctrine, the head of the family is liable for damages caused by the negligence of another family member while operating a motor vehicle if the head of the family maintains the vehicle for use by the family and the family member was using the vehicle for a family purpose.
While there are defenses parents can mount to attempt to avoid liability, most of the time parents share financial responsibility for damages caused by their teenage children in car accidents.