Teenage Car Accidents and Parental Liability...



A Personal Injury Case Study

Teenage car accidents are a growing concern in the USA. This auto collision case study illustrates several important legal issues relating to underage drinking and parental liability. We review the auto accident, liability, injuries, settlement negotiations, and the final case resolution.

The Accident...

Alex was graduating from high school and asked his parents if he could have a graduation party. Set on having the biggest party in the class, Alex invited everyone in his high school to attend. His parents were regular drinkers and had a fully stocked bar in the basement of their home.

Assuming that all the children were going to behave responsibly, his parents failed to lock up the alcohol. In addition, they did not supervise the children at the party who ranged in age from 15-19 years old.

At one point, Alex's mother, Monica was aware that some teens were in the basement doing shots, however did not intervene. She also observed a large group outside in the pool house playing beer pong, a game in which ping pong balls are bounced into cups and consumed.

After two hours, three children were violently throwing up in the bathroom and one nearly drowned after becoming so intoxicated that he fell into the pool. Alex's parents ended the party abruptly sending over 50 teenagers, some of who they knew were intoxicated, on their way to drive in vehicles.

McKenna and Molly, age 15 and 16 who were both intoxicated, loaded into Molly's convertible and left the driveway speeding down the street without their headlights on. One mile away, Molly crashed into a tree ejecting McKenna from the vehicle.

Liability...

Molly is liable for a felony driving under the influence offense because she was legally intoxicated, she was only 16 (not the legal age to drink - which rose the matter to a felony), and there was an injury. Her parents covered her on their vehicle insurance and therefore her parents' insurance would be pursued.

In addition, Alex's parents would most likely be held liable. When adults are given the responsibility of supervising children, they must do so responsibly. When Alex's mother became aware that children were drinking in her home, she had a responsibility to handle the situation by calling their parents, securing safe rides home for them and removing the alcohol.

Otherwise, she becomes a conspirator in their conduct and is not only liable for negligence leading to the teenage car accident, but could be held criminally responsible for contributing to the delinquency of minors. Molly and McKenna's parents also sued Alex's family's homeowners insurance policy for their negligence.

Injuries...

McKenna was ejected from the vehicle and sustained a broken back. She was taken by ambulance to the local children's hospital where she was rushed into immediate surgery to avoid paralysis. She remained in the hospital for two weeks and her total bills for her urgent care were $45,000.

McKenna also underwent intense physical therapy for 6 months which was $12,000 and had to repeat her sophomore year of high school. She visited an occupational therapist for 1 month for another $3,000 in bills.

McKenna's total medical expenses were $60,000. Molly was not injured at all in the teenage car accident other than mild whiplash. Her insurance med-pay of $5,000 covered her expenses.

Negotiations...

McKenna demanded $240,000 in her first demand to the insurance company. Molly's parents' insurance policy was only $50,000 and they settled for policy limits. This left medical bills unpaid for McKenna and no real settlement.

She then submitted a demand to Alex's parents for $240,000. They responded with an offer to settle for nuisance value or $1,000, however once the adjuster began to receive the medical bills and do research on liability, they made a revised offer of $75,000. McKenna countered with $100,000.

Final Settlement...

The case settled for $50,000 against Molly's insurance and $100,000 against Alex's parents' insurance, for a total of $150,000. Her medical bills were negotiated down to $40,000 and 30% of those were covered by her parents' medical insurance.

Important Points...

  • You can seek recovery from more than source. Liability is often shared by multiple parties in a car accident.

  • A parent can be responsible for alcohol consumption of minors at parties they host. This could result in civil as well as criminal actions.

  • If your damages exceed the defendant's insurance policy limits you can sue them personally to make up the difference.

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PERSONAL INJURY
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MEDICAL ERROR
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