Visitor Question

What’s the potential liability for having minor son on our auto insurance?

Submitted By: Anonymous (Williamstown, West Virginia)

My husband and I have purchased a car for our 17yr old son (my step son). We have added him to our insurance policy and registered his car in my husband’s name. His mother is his primary custodian.

In the event an accident happened for which he may be at fault, where does the financial liability lie? If for example, he were to be sued for someone’s injuries above and beyond what his insurance coverage allotted… Does that liability fall solely on my husband and I since we have him on our insurance and the vehicle is registered in our name, or does that liability fall between his mother and my husband?

Thank you for any information you can provide.

Disclaimer: Our response is not formal legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. It is generic legal information based on the very limited information provided. Do not rely upon the information in our response, or anywhere else on this site, when deciding the proper course of a legal matter. Always get a personalized case review from a local attorney.

Answer

Dear Anonymous,

In the unfortunate event your 17 year old stepson is in a car accident and it’s determined he was at-fault, West Virginia law holds the custodial parents (the parents with whom the boy lives) liable for injuries and property damage caused by the young man’s actions provided the following factors are present:

  1. The minor was at-fault
  2. The accident resulted in injuries or property damage to third parties (third parties can be the driver and/or passengers of the car struck by your stepson, or pedestrians who may have been struck)
  3. The minor’s actions are determined to have been malicious and willful, and resulted in injuries or property damage to one or more third parties

In the event all of the above factors were present, then custodial parents would be financially liable. However, in that case, the West Virginia law limits total third party recovery to $5,000. That amount is not for every party, but is for all of the recovery combined.

Moreover, the $5,000 can only be for “actual damages” such as medical bills, out-of-pocket expenses, and car repairs. Compensation for pain and suffering, sometimes referred to as emotional distress or mental anguish, is not allowed.

A custodial parent is defined in the State of Virginia as:

  • The parent or parents with whom the minor child is living, or
  • A divorced or separated parent who does not have legal custody over the minor, but who is exercising supervisory control over the minor at the time of the harmful act

While the above summarizes applicable West Virginia law, an affected third party may circumvent the law and sue the young man and his custodial and/or biological parents if the following can be proved:

  1. They knew, or should have known about the minor’s dangerous tendencies; and
  2. Despite that knowledge they failed to take reasonable steps to properly supervise or control the child; and
  3. As a result of these acts or omissions, one or more third parties suffered foreseeable harm.

If there is no evidence the young man’s actions in causing an accident would be malicious or willful, nor evidence any of you knew, or should have known about the boy’s dangerous tendencies (he doesn’t have any), then you would not likely be found personally liable. As a result, you, your husband, and the young man’s biological mother would not be held financially responsible above and beyond the coverage limits of your insurance policy.

To read West Virginia’s applicable state law go to:
West Virginia Code, Chapter 55 – Article 7A, Section 55-7-A-1and 55-7-A-2

The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from a licensed attorney. Find a local attorney to give you a free case review here , or call (888) 647-2490.

Best of luck,

Published: October 19, 2017

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Comments

One thought on “What’s the potential liability for having minor son on our auto insurance?

  1. This is my great grandson’s accident… He’s 21 yrs old and I have the car in my name. He’s had 2 accidents now and 3-5 tickets (?) for speeding. He had an accident with my Nissan when he was 16 or 17 yrs old. No one was hurt. This time he hit someone from behind and I don’t know how much this will be. It wasn’t too forceful because I could hardly tell where he hit, but I don’t know what the other person will claim. My insurance company will not cover him and I am being punished for this with the probability of not covering me. I haven’t had an accident or ticket in over 40 years. His car is a Dodge Stratus 2006.

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