Who Is Liable in a Car Accident Case Caused by a Minor?

Author: Auger Law | October 16th, 2019

Getting into an accident can be heart wrenching enough, so when an injured victim sees that the other driver involved is clearly under 18, they may be worried about their ability to obtain the full, fair amount of compensation for all their damages.


Making matters more troubling, drivers under 20 are twice as likely to be involved in a fatal crash compared to adult drivers. Car accidents are also the leading cause of death for teens in the United States.

Those who have been injured in Charlotte in an accident with a minor can take solace in the fact that minors are required to carry the minimum amount of liability insurance in North Carolina like anybody else. Furthermore, injury victims can potentially work with a Charlotte car accident lawyers to see if parents or other adults in the minor’s household could be held liable for the damages caused.

Applying the Family Purpose Doctrine to a Charlotte Car Accident Involving a Minor

Minors are already on the hook for any damages they cause in a car accident because of minimum insurance laws in North Carolina. At the same time, others could be held liable for the damages if the use of the vehicle falls under what is known as the “family purpose doctrine.” 

This legal doctrine is based on prior case rulings that determined that providing a vehicle for a minor to use can make the vehicle’s owner — or the person most in control of the vehicle — responsible for damages caused while the vehicle is in use. 

Not every situation applies to the family use doctrine, however. Usually, the following factors must be at play:

  • The operator of the vehicle was a direct family member or lived in the same household as the vehicle’s owner or the person with actual control over the vehicle’s use
  • The vehicle was regularly provided and maintained for the general use, pleasure, and convenience of the family
  • The vehicle was being used under the express consent or implied consent of the vehicle owner, or the person in control of the vehicle at the time of the accident

Any time a vehicle is shared by the family, it can potentially fall under these criteria. 

Vehicles owned by the teen driver may also fall under the family purpose doctrine if it can be demonstrated that the ownership or maintenance of the vehicle was handled by others in the household. For instance, if a teen’s name is on the title of the vehicle but a parent (or another adult) co-signed for the vehicle, handled all payments, paid for the insurance, paid for maintenance costs, or otherwise supported use of the vehicle, then it may still be considered a “family purpose” vehicle.

What Liability Does Family Purpose Imply?

For cases where the family purpose doctrine applies to an accident caused by a minor in North Carolina, accident victims may have access to additional financial resources to pay for the damages. Every situation is unique, though, so a Charlotte car accident attorney may be needed to identify whether the family purpose doctrine could apply and which resources could be made available to help compensate accident victims.

Examples of possible resources made available to those injured by a minor driver include umbrella policies and other liability insurance policies. If an accident victim chooses to, they can even pursue a civil claim against the applicable parent or vehicle owner directly.

In Charlotte and the rest of North Carolina, the family purpose doctrine can apply to both motor vehicles as well as motorboats and other vessels provided for general use by the family (N.C.Code § 75A‑10.1).

Pursuing a Personal Injury Claim with the Help of a Charlotte Car Accident Lawyer

Teen driving accidents are extremely common, and they can be costly. While teens are as responsible as anyone else for the damages they cause in a crash, accident victims may have to pursue additional avenues for obtaining compensation from family members or a member of the household who provided the vehicle for general use.

Making use of the family purpose doctrine requires an intimate understanding of the law and how past rulings have employed it to the plaintiff’s advantage. The courts can be quite selective about assigning liability in this way, and they often emphasize that the doctrine is not a catch-all to cover teens from liability in the event that they make poor decisions.

If you have been injured or a close family member has been killed by a teen driver, you deserve to know about every available legal option to help you recover from your associated damages. You can speak to experienced Charlotte car accident lawyers during a free, no-obligation consultation to learn more about the optimal legal strategies that could apply to your case. 

Schedule your free, confidential case review now when you call (800) 559-5741 or contact us online.

Posted In: Car Accidents