Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death in teenagers aged 16 to 19. Moreover, 15- to 24-year-olds are just 14 percent of the population—but the accidents they cause result in nearly one-third of all costs related to car accidents.
The answer is likely yes if the parents own the car. While every case is unique — and you should contact an experienced Long Island car accident attorney for legal advice concerning your particular case — in general, any time you loan your car to another person and allow them to drive, under New York law, you are liable for any harm that results. The liability “follows the car” so to speak.
In New York, the rule is statutory. New York Vehicle and Traffic Law (“VTL”) § 388 specifically states that “[e]very owner of a vehicle used or operated in this state shall be liable and responsible for death or injuries to person or property resulting from negligence in the use or operation of such vehicle … by any person using or operating the same with the permission, express or implied, of such owner.” This means that an owner of a car is liable even if he or she is not driving the car when an injury or accident occurs.
This rule applies to parents and their teenagers. If a parent loans the “family car” to a teenage child, and then an injury or accident occurs, the parent is liable as the owner of the car.
It is worth noting that parents — and other car owners — are only liable for harm that occurs as a results of the “use or operation” of the vehicle. For example, in the case of Levitt v. Peluso, 638 N.Y.S.2d 878, 168 Misc.2d 239 , the owner of an automobile was sued when his son threw an egg out of the family car. The victim was blinded in one eye. The victim sued and his attorneys argued that, since the egg was thrown while the car was in operation, the plaintiff could recover against the father pursuant to VTL § 388. In opposition, the father’s attorneys argued that throwing eggs is not the “use or operation” of car.
After a long review of the law and caselaw from other states, the court took a strict view of VTL § 388 and agreed with the father. The court stated: “[t]o say that the inherent nature of an automobile is to serve as a “launching pad” for eggs mischaracterizes the innate nature of a car.” A similar result was reached in Ciminello v. Sullivan, 2009 NY Slip Op 6396 [NY App. 2nd Dept. 2009] (in urine-thrown-from-car case father/owner of vehicle was properly dismissed since urine throwing was not within the ambit of the “use and operation” clause of VTL §388). The same rule would apply to boats and other water craft.
As a practical matter, this means that you should use caution when loaning out your car and you should make sure that your automobile insurance is up-to-date. When your teenage child begins driving, you should contact your insurance agent and make sure your policy does not have any exclusions related to a teenage drivers (or others who might borrow your car). Some insurance companies will exclude teenagers or other friends and family from coverage. Make sure you understand your insurance policy, including who is covered and the policy limits.
If your teenage child — or someone else was driving your car — and they got into an auto accident in Long Island, you should call an experienced personal injury attorney at the Law Office of Cohen & Jaffe, LLP. We can help you evaluate your options and protect you against lawsuits and insurance claims. You don’t have to do this alone. Contact us at (866) 895-0420. We offer no cost/no obligation consultations.