As a parent, one of the scariest moments is when your child is gets behind the wheel of a car for the first time. One of the many things that are probably running through your head as they pull out of the driveway is whether you are personally liable if your child causes a car accident. More than likely, you purchased their car and are paying their insurance, so it is a fair question.
Fortunately, in Indiana, you are not generally personally liable for your child’s car accident. That means if he or she causes damage or injury to another, you will not be required to pay money to the injured party. There is an exception, however. Like many states, Indiana requires parents, guardians, or another responsible adult to sign a minor’s application for a permit or driver’s license. Under Indiana Code, Section 9-24-9-4, the person who signs this application agrees to be jointly liable — along with the minor — for any injuries or damages the minor causes through operation of a motor vehicle. Of course, the adult is also absolved of legal responsibility for the minor’s driving, once the minor turns 18.
There’s a claim in Indiana called “negligent entrustment,” which essentially means that despite knowing your child was incompetent, unfit, and/or a dangerous driver, you let him or her drive anyway. In those situations, you can be held personally liable.
For the most part, Indiana courts have limited negligent entrustment claims to situations where your child would be dangerous due to physical conditions that would hamper their ability to drive, such as: intoxication, handicap by blindness, or a physical deformity. Another situation would be allowing your child to drive despite his or her never having been licensed.
Under Indiana Code, Section 34-31-4, a parent/guardian will be financially responsible for certain harm to a person, or damage to property, stemming from a minor’s conduct if: the parent or guardian has custody of the minor child, and the child is living with the parent or guardian. There are a couple of important limitations on this liability: the child must have caused the harm knowingly, intentionally, or recklessly, and the parent/guardian will not be liable for more than $5,000 in actual damages. “Actual damages” means that the injured person can’t recover money for non-economic losses like “pain and suffering,” which can ordinarily be a pretty significant component of damages in a personal injury case.
Hopefully, you’ve found this article before your child has caused an accident. If so, here are a few things I would absolutely consider to make sure you’re not liable for your child’s driving:
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The financial burden that often comes with a serious injury can be too much for many people to bear. Unexpected medical debt, damaged personal property, and the sudden loss of income can impact the budgets of most families. The good news is that a successful injury claim could help reduce that financial strain after a serious accident. Get in touch with a Terre Haute personal injury lawyer with Fleschner, Stark, Tanoos & Newlin to learn more.
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