Am I Liable for My College Student’s Car Accident?

If your son or daughter is attending college, they will probably want to drive. If you let them drive your car or buy them a car titled in your name, what liability do you bear if they get into a car accident? The short answer is that you are not necessarily liable if your child causes an accident, but you could be if your behavior was negligent.

Context: How Florida’s Car Accident Compensation System Works

Most of the time, Florida is a ‘no-fault’ auto insurance state. Like other states, Florida requires you to carry a minimum amount of car insurance. Every Florida driver must purchase $10,000 worth of personal injury protection (PIP) insurance and $10,000 worth of property damage liability insurance. In the event of an accident, victims must usually look to their own PIP insurance.

However, if their injuries are ‘serious’ as Florida law defines that term or if another exception applies, an injury victim can exit the no-fault system and file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver. They can also file a lawsuit against anyone else (such as you) who might bear vicarious liability for the accident.  

Ways That You Could Bear Liability

Florida law can impose liability on you for your child’s bad driving under the following circumstances.

If Your Child is a Minor

When your child first obtained their driver’s license (assuming that they were under 18 at the time), a parent or guardian had to sign their license. Whoever signed bears liability until the child turns 18 for any negligent or willful driving-related misconduct by your child. What you might not realize is that you remain liable for your minor child’s driving-related misconduct even if they are driving someone else’s vehicle (their friend’s car, for example).

Negligent Entrustment

‘Negligent entrustment’ is a type of negligence claim. You commit this type of negligence if you knowingly allow your son or daughter (of any age) to drive a car when you know or should know that they are incompetent, reckless, or otherwise unfit to drive. 

If your child causes an accident under these circumstances, you can bear liability for property damage, personal injury, or even wrongful death.

Florida’s ‘Dangerous Instrumentality’ Doctrine

Florida, like many other states, recognizes the ‘dangerous instrumentality’ doctrine. Under this doctrine, the owner of a vehicle bears liability when someone else drives it negligently. If your son or daughter takes a car titled in your name to college, you might be liable for their negligent actions behind the wheel. This doctrine does not apply if you do not own the vehicle.

Titling the car in your (adult) child’s name protects you against the dangerous instrumentality doctrine. This protection is diluted if, for example, you use the car as a family car but title it in your child’s name solely to avoid liability. 

Normally, the dangerous instrumentality doctrine does not apply if the child drives the car without your permission. For example, you might still bear liability under certain circumstances, such as leaving the keys in the ignition. Your liability, if any, will arise from your obligation to foresee that your child might take your car without your permission.

Liability Insurance

Florida is one of only a few states that do not require their drivers to purchase auto liability insurance. If your child causes an accident that results in personal injury, death, or property damage without liability insurance to cover it, you could bear liability for some or all resulting losses. 

Since your child is an inexperienced driver, you should purchase auto liability insurance, preferably with high coverage limits.

Talk to a Personal Injury Lawyer After an Accident

If you are facing liability for a car accident caused by your child, or if you seek compensation from a driver’s parents due to a car accident that injured your son or daughter, talk to a personal injury lawyer ASAP. Under the contingency fee system, you only pay if you win money.

Contact Our Gainesville Car Accident Law Firm in North Central Florida

If you need legal assistance, contact the Gainesville car accident lawyers at Allen Law Accident & Injury Lawyers at your nearest location to schedule a free consultation today.

We have three convenient locations in North Central Florida:

Allen Law Accident & Injury Lawyers – Downtown Gainesville
621 W University Ave
Gainesville, FL 32601
(866) 928-6292

Allen Law Accident & Injury Lawyers – Gainesville office
2550 SW 76th St #150
Gainesville, FL 32608
(877) 255-3652

Allen Law Accident & Injury Lawyers – Ocala Office
112 S Pine Ave
Ocala, FL 34471
(352) 351-3258