Keep the Car Keys Away from Your Kids

We all want to keep our kids safe; we try to teach them right from wrong and we hope that they wind up making good decisions. However, kids sometimes fall short of our moral expectations, even when we are parenting lovingly and consciously. Teens behave mischievously on occasion – like taking their parents’ keys for a joyride.

When your child takes your car and winds up causing a collision, who is held liable? In most cases, the answer is you.  

Can I be held liable if my child causes a wreck?

Parents can be held liable for the harm their children cause because of a doctrine known as vicarious liability. Parental liability for their children’s wrongdoings are discussed in several areas of Pennsylvania Law.

  • 23 Pa. Code § 5502 – “Any parent whose child is found liable or is adjudged guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction of a tortious act shall be liable to the person who suffers the injury.” In legal terms, a “tortious act” simply means a wrongdoing or breach of duty of care, such as speeding, driving recklessly, or driving without a license.
  • Kelly v. Seachrist – Case law in Pennsylvania confirms parental vicarious liability when the child does something negligent. At the conclusion of the 1993 case Kelly v. Seachrist, the judge ruled that the accident victim was legally entitled to recover damages from the parents of Alan Seachrist (a minor who was driving his parents’ car without a license).

You can be held liable even if your child is driving with a valid license.

How much can I be sued for?

In order for you to be held liable, the filing party will have to prove that your child acted in a tortious manner (wrongfully). If your child’s joyride resulted in an accident, the victims can file a claim or action against you to recover their medical expenses, property damage, and lost wages, amongst other losses. Fortunately, there is a limit to how much you are responsible for. In 23 Pa. Code § 5505, the statutes caps parents liability at:

  • $1,000 for injuries suffered by any one person
  • $2,500 per accident

If you are sued for more than those figures, the courts will dismiss any further liability. Note, if someone was injured or killed because of your child’s actions, it might not just be a civil suit you face, but also a criminal one. This is why it is exceedingly important to try to lay down rules in your home and instruct your kids about the consequences of bad behaviors like joyriding. 

For more interesting articles, visit the Cordisco & Saile LLC blog. Cordisco & Saile LLC helps accident victims pursue their injury claims. Contact us at 215-719-8911 or fill out our online contact form for a free consultation.