Case Study: Teen Car Accident and Parental Liability

Here’s the story of a teen car accident involving alcohol served at a graduation party. See how the young host’s parents are held liable for damages.

Car accidents are the leading cause of death for American teens. Teen drivers and alcohol are a particularly dangerous combination.

This case study illustrates a fictional teen driver who crashed her car after she was served alcohol at a friend’s graduation party.

We review the injured passenger’s options for pursuing compensation and discuss how the young host’s parents are liable for damages.

Our study wraps up with important points about car accidents involving teen drivers.

How the Accident Occurred

Alex Weber 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 blasted an invitation on social media to everyone in his high school.

His parents had a fully stocked bar and entertainment center in the finished basement of their home.

Assuming that all the children were going to behave responsibly, Alex’s parents failed to lock up the alcohol. In addition, they didn’t supervise the large number of kids who showed up at the party, who ranged in age from 15-19 years old.

At one point, Alex’s mother, Monica, was aware that some guests were in the basement doing shots. However, she did not intervene. She also saw 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. Feeling the party was getting out of hand, Alex’s mother ended the party abruptly. Telling everyone to leave immediately, Monica sent more than 50 teenagers on their way, despite knowing that several of the kids were intoxicated. The teens piled into their cars and left.

Molly, age 16, and her best friend McKenna, age 15, jumped into Molly’s convertible. Both girls were intoxicated. Molly hit the gas, fishtailing out of the driveway without headlights on. Molly went speeding down the road for about a mile when she lost control on a curve and slammed the convertible into a tree.

A nearby homeowner heard the crash and called 911.

Injuries from the Accident

Molly was kept in her seat by the airbags and the steering wheel. She suffered a mild whiplash, cuts to her face and arms from flying glass, and multiple bruises.

Molly was taken by ambulance to the local hospital emergency room, where she was evaluated for possible internal injuries and alcohol poisoning.

McKenna was ejected from the vehicle and sustained a broken back. She was airlifted to the nearest trauma center, where she was rushed into immediate surgery to avoid paralysis.

She remained in the hospital for four weeks, transitioning from ICU to the rehab unit. After she was released to go home, McKenna continued two months of physical therapy.

McKenna had to wear a back brace throughout her recovery and was unable to participate in any sports or recreational activities for the rest of the year.

McKenna’s total medical expenses were $120,000.

Liability for the Auto Accident

The police investigation determined that Molly was at fault for the single-vehicle crash. At the hospital, her blood alcohol test proved she was well over the legal limit for intoxication.

Molly was ticketed for driving under the influence, speeding, failing to maintain control of her vehicle, and failing to have her headlights on after dark.

Molly’s driver’s license was revoked until she was 21 years old. She also faced criminal charges for drunk driving resulting in injury to others.

Molly’s divorced parents share custody. As a resident of both households, Molly was covered under both her parents’ auto insurance policies.

Alex’s parents are also liable for allowing the teenagers access to alcohol in their home and failing to act 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.

Most states have host liability laws in place that hold adults responsible when they allow underage drinking on their property.

Damages and Insurance Settlements

Molly’s family was devastated when they learned of McKenna’s severe injuries. They understood that Molly decided to drink and drive, but they also blamed Alex’s parents for providing the alcohol.

Molly’s parents decided not to pursue Alex’s parents for compensation only because they did not wish to compete for any available funds that would otherwise go to McKenna.

McKenna’s family hired a personal injury attorney to represent their severely injured daughter.

McKenna’s medical bills cost $120,000, her out-of-pocket expenses for medications, a wheelchair, a hospital bed, and other equipment came to $3,000.

While McKenna couldn’t remember the crash, she suffered terrible nightmares and anxiety for months. She was frustrated and depressed over her physical pain and limitations and humiliated to need help with bathing and other personal care.

McKenna’s attorney valued her claim at $350,000 for her medical bills, out-of-pocket expenses, and her extreme pain and suffering.

The convertible belonged to Molly’s mother. Her car insurance carrier tendered their per-person bodily injury liability limits of $100,000 to McKenna’s attorney.

Molly’s father’s auto insurance company also paid their $50,000 per-person limit.

McKenna’s attorney filed a claim against the Weber’s homeowner’s insurance policy demanding $200,000.

After some back and forth, the homeowners’ insurer settled McKenna’s’ injury claim for their liability limits of $100,000.

McKenna’s attorney was also able to negotiate a significant reduction to the medical liens filed by her health insurance provider.

Important Points About Teen Accidents

  • A parent can be responsible for alcohol consumption by minors at parties they host, resulting in civil as well as criminal actions.
  • An experienced personal injury attorney should handle severe injury claims.
  • Both parents’ auto insurance policies often cover teens with divorced parents.
  • Injured passengers in single-car crashes are entitled to seek compensation from the driver’s insurance company.

 

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Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>