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A Quick Guide to Understanding Teen Car Accident Lawsuits

Dan Brian   |  September 22, 2016   |  

Whether your teen driver has been in an accident while behind the wheel, or your teenager was involved in an accident as a passenger, it is a scary situation all around. Your teen may still be recovering, or may have already undergone a number of medical treatments and be well on the path to recovery. Either way, it is helpful to know what should happen next in terms of recovering compensation.

Teen Passenger Injuries

What happens if your teenager is injured in an accident as a passenger? If they were with you (or another member of the household), their injuries would generally be covered under your insurance or the policy of the driver at fault for the crash. But if they are riding with someone else, the party responsible for paying for their medical bills and other losses is usually the insurance company of the at-fault driver, whether that is the driver of the car your teen was in or the driver of the other vehicle. You can submit a third-party claim to the insurance company of the at-fault driver on your teen’s behalf.

Parents or Legal Guardians Have to Represent Teens Under 18

If your teenager is under the age of 18, and you would like to pursue compensation for damages and injuries, a guardian ad litem (or GAL) will need to be appointed. This GAL, usually a lawyer or a family member, will represent your child’s interests, as they are not yet of age. The guardian ad litem is generally separate from the lawyer who files your case or claim.

If your teenager lives with you, you likely have all of their bills for medical expenses, therapy, etc. from after the accident. You are entitled to claim those expenses, or if you choose to represent your child as the GAL, you can waive the medical expenses that were or will be incurred while they are of minority age and allow them to claim both those expenses and future expenses for when they are of majority age.

Any compensation paid to you as a claimant for medical expenses is yours, except what may be owed to Medicaid or another health insurance company, but any settlement or judgment paid to your child is to be kept in trust for them until they are no longer a minor.

Vicarious Liability

If your teen was the one at fault, then the accident victims will likely pursue compensation from you or your insurance company under a theory of vicarious liability, which holds that parents are responsible for damages caused by their children.

In North Carolina, this is expressed in the Family Purpose Doctrine. Under the Family Purpose Doctrine, a parent may be liable any time their negligent child causes an accident if the teen is on family business, doing an errand for the family when the accident happens.

The minor’s claim for future earnings likewise requires some discussion, as do the potential liens against the minor’s recovery

Judgment is paid to guardians or to the court to hold until majority age. Settlements may be paid to clerk (for $25,000 or less), used to purchase annuity (for a “structured settlement”), or paid to the guardian (needs permission from court to spend principal).

How North Carolina’s Contributory Negligence Laws Play a Role in Teen Accidents

North Carolina follows a contributory negligence rule when it comes to determining financial responsibility in an accident. This means that if you suffer damages or injuries in a car accident and you are more than 0% to blame, you are not entitled to compensation.

Passengers are generally not included in this consideration of fault, especially if they are minors. Minor passengers generally not found to be negligent because they do not control the vehicle. However, teenage drivers are held to the contributory negligence rule the same as adults.

For answers to your specific questions regarding teenagers and car accidents, contact the experienced personal injury attorneys at Riddle & Brantley now for a free consultation.