Advice For Parents To Help Teens Avoid Liability for Car Accidents in South Carolina

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As the school year kicks back up again, many teens are likely to be heading back to school in their cars and driving their friends around to hang out after school.  Unfortunately, teen drivers are often over-confident, reckless with road rules, and easily distracted while driving.  In fact, the National Center for Health Statistics found that motor vehicle crashes are the number one cause of death among 15 to 20 year olds.  Further, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that drivers aged 16-19 years old were three times more likely to die in a car crash than drivers who were over 20 years old.
Top Reasons Teens Get Into Driving Accidents
A 2016 News Release published by the American Automobile Association found the following were the top reasons teens got into accidents:

  1. The teen was talking to or otherwise distracted by other passengers in the vehicle (15 percent)
  2. The teen was talking on, texting, taking photos, or playing games on their phone (12 percent)
  3. The teen was looking at something or distracted by something in a vehicle (i.e. car radio, GPS) (11 percent)

Other common reasons why teens may get into accidents include being intoxicated while driving, or thinking about other things such as a big test at school or recent drama with their friends or significant other.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that 31 percent of fatalities due to teenage driving accidents were due to drunk driving.  It is important to talk to your teenager about the potential dangers of drunk and distracted driving before they go onto the road, particularly given their inexperience.
Ways to Prevent Accidents by Teen Drivers
The most important preventative measure for avoiding car accidents with teenage drivers lies with parents.  Parents need to ensure their teenagers know the dangers and risks of driving.  The parent should practice driving with the teen and practice handling different types of distractions and different weather conditions so when the teen is driving alone, they will know how to anticipate and handle them.  The parent shall also ensure the teen is familiar with local driving laws and ordinances so they are familiar with different road rules and signs they may encounter when on the road.  Finally, you should look into different technology that may be installed in the car to notify the driver if he or she is exceeding the speed limit, disable the teen’s cell phone when the car is turned on, etc.  
Aside from ensuring the teen driver is ready for different conditions inside the car, consider sitting down and writing a driver-parent “contract.”  You and your teenager can work on this document together and it can include content such as acknowledgments of the dangers of driving, acknowledgment by the adult that they will be a role model of proper driving habits, curfews for using the car, and penalties that may include suspending the teen’s driving privileges if they drive recklessly.  
Who Can Be Sued After a Car Accident With a Teen Driver?
Several people may be at risk of being held liable if a teenager gets into an accident while driving.  An injured party’s attorney will likely join multiple parties to the lawsuit.  First, of course the teenager may be sued for causing the accident.  There is no limit for the amount a minor may be ordered to pay due to a car accident.
Second, a parent of the teenager may be sued until several theories of liability.  Specifically, a parent may be sued under the following theories:

  1. Imputed Liability: South Carolina law specifically provides that liability will be imputed to a parent or legal guardian who signs a minor’s driver’s license application, and that such parent will be held jointly and severally liable for motor vehicle negligence or willful misconduct of a minor, unless there is a policy of liability insurance in place which covers the damages.  This means an injured victim may recover all damages from either the teen or their parent who signed their license application.  This is particularly important given the fact that many teens do not have many assets or money, but their parents could still be on the hook for payment.  It is also important to note that even if a parent has liability coverage that covers part of the damages from an accident, a parent may still be sued for amount beyond what is covered by insurance, up to $5,000.


  • General Civil Liability: Even if a parent or legal guardian does not sign a minor’s driver’s license application, a parent may still be held liable for damages caused by the teen if (1) the teen lives with the parent, and (2) the teen’s actions were willful or malicious.


  • Family Purpose Doctrine: The $5,000 cap on parental liability may be lifted if an injured party can establish a suit where the family purpose doctrine applies.  Specifically, for the South Carolina Family Purpose Doctrine to apply, an injured party needs to prove the following elements are true of their claim:


    • The parent they are suing is the head of the family;
    • The parent they are suing owns and maintains the vehicle, and provided the vehicle in question to the minor to drive;
    • The vehicle in question is used for general family purposes; and
    • The family member who caused the accident was allowed to operate the vehicle for purposes related to the family (i.e. grocery shopping, picking up take-out, picking siblings up from school, etc.) and that family member was negligent.

Finally, if the accident was found to be partially caused because the teen was intoxicated, a barkeeper/owner may be liable for the accident for serving alcohol to a minor.
Contact an Experienced Greenville, South Carolina Personal Injury Attorney Today!
If you and/or your teen are sued due to a car accident in Greenville, South Carolina, you should hire a determined Greenville personal injury lawyer who can help you evaluate your case and assess your defenses. The skilled personal injury attorneys at David R. Price, Jr., P.A. will help you go through your case, gather evidence, and understand your potential liability.  Contact us today to get started with your personal injury claim.


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