Two passenger cars collided on the road

Are Parents Liable for an Accident Caused by Their Teen?

Downs, McDonough, Cowan & Foley  Oct. 26, 2023

If your child caused a car accident—or any other kind of accident—it’s natural to feel overwhelmed. The thought of penalties you might face for your child’s actions may add even more stress to your situation. If your child has been implicated in a car accident in Colorado, reach out to us at Downs, McDonough, Cowan & Foley, LLC in Durango. We can help you to understand your rights and obligations and support you throughout the accident’s aftermath. 

Liability for Accidents in Colorado 

In Colorado, parents can be held liable for car accidents caused by their teens. In fact, Colorado has a Parental Responsibility Law that transfers liability to the parents of a child who causes bodily injury (even if that injury was accidental) and property damage. Let’s look further at Colorado accident laws: 

Colorado Is a Fault State   

Unlike “no-fault” states in which each driver’s insurance covers their own injuries regardless of who caused the accident, Colorado follows the “fault” rule in which the at-fault driver’s insurance company can be liable for the victim’s damages. 

Colorado also follows the “comparative fault” rule, meaning that—whether during a settlement process decided by a claims adjustor or by a judge should the the matter go to trial—the drivers will be assigned a degree of fault, which decides how much they are owed and how much they must pay out. For example, if your damages come to $10,000 but you were found to be 20% at fault for the accident, you could only recover $8000 of your damages from the other party. Note that you will be unable to claim anything against the other driver if you are found to be 50% or more at fault for an accident.  

What Is Negligent Entrustment & Vicarious Liability for Parents? 

“Negligent entrustment” can play a part where liability is concerned in Colorado. Parents can be considered negligent if they know that their child is likely to engage in risky behavior but still allow the child freedom to engage in that behavior. If a parent knows that their child is likely to speed, for example, they can be found negligent if they still allow their minor access to a vehicle.  

The principle of “vicarious liability” can also come into play when a teen gets into a car accident. Colorado is one of many states with a “family car doctrine” stating that the parents of a teen who gets behind the wheel for a “family purpose” can be liable if that teen causes an accident. Provided the teen has been given access to a vehicle, this “family purpose” can be nearly any activity. 

Will Insurance Cover the Expenses?   

This will depend on your policy. However, as Colorado requires all drivers to have a minimum amount of bodily injury coverage and property damage liability coverage, there is a chance that insurance will cover at least some of the expenses. 

Can A Parent Be Sued in A Personal Injury Lawsuit? 

Generally, yes. The other party can file a personal injury lawsuit against the parents of the teen driver.  

The plaintiff will have to prove that the parents were negligent in allowing the teen access to the vehicle. If you are being sued as a parent using the “family car doctrine,” the plaintiff will need to prove that you are the head of the household, and that the vehicle was used by another household member (your teen) with permission from the head of the household, and that your teen caused the other party’s injuries.  

Skilled Legal Advocacy When You Need It Most  

You don’t need to go through this experience alone. If your child has caused a car accident in Colorado and you need help understanding your next steps, remember that you have options. At Downs, McDonough, Cowan & Foley, LLC, our team is here to help. Our attorneys—David Downs, Jamie McDonough, Chris Cowan, and Meg Foley—are here to support you and your family. We will listen to your story, help you explore your options, and pursue the best possible outcome for your case. No matter where you live in Colorado, including Durango as well as Telluride, Pagosa Springs, Cortez, and The Four Corners, contact us for a consultation.