Am I Responsible For My Teen Driver?

Family Car Doctrine

Before you lend your teenager the keys to the family car, you should know about a particular law in Colorado called the “family car doctrine.”  The “family car doctrine” holds parents legally responsible for someone else’s injuries if they lend their family car to their teenager and the teenager causes an accident.  Of course, the teenage driver will also be held responsible for his/her own actions, but to be held co-responsible as a parent, the following elements must be true:

  1. you are the ‘head of the household’;
  2. you have control over the use of the vehicle;
  3. the driver (your child) is a member of your household;
  4. the driver had your express or implied permission to use the vehicle;
  5. the driver was negligent in operating the vehicle; and
  6. the driver’s negligence caused injuries or other harm to another person.

 See Hasegawa v. Day, 684 P.2d 936 (Colo.App. 1983).

Some of you might be thinking to yourself that a law making a parent responsible for their kid's carelessness simply by virtue of their family relationship is a little unfair.  But the fact is that Colorado courts have already determined that it's fair, so as a parent in Colorado with a teenage driver in your house, this is something that you simply need to be aware of and plan for.

How do I protect myself?

If you have assets, such as real estate and vehicles, that you want to protect, the best way to protect yourself is to buy more insurance on any vehicle that your teenager might be using.  Most attorneys will not go after your personal assets if you have adequate insurance coverage.

The other obvious thing you can do to protect yourself against potential lawsuits and claims is to refresh yourself on Colorado’s rules of the road and discuss them in detail with your driving-age kids.  A good place to start is the Colorado Driver Handbook.  

Sure, your kid has to learn these rules to get their permit and driver’s license, but it’s one thing to learn them in a book and entirely another to see them in action on the roads of Colorado.  That’s where you and your years of real-world driving experience can help.  There’s no substitute for good common-sense practical driving advice from someone who’s been driving a lot longer than them.  

Can I get some free legal advice?

Of course.  Call Gama Law Firm and speak to attorney Richard Gama at no charge about your situation.  If you are the parent of a child who injured someone else, you need to contact your car insurance company right away, as they will defend you against any personal injury claims brought against you or your child.

If you are the one injured in a crash caused by a teenage driver, speak with Richard Gama or another personal injury attorney right away, as an attorney may need to investigate whether the ‘family car doctrine’ might apply to your situation.  If it does apply, then there may be more insurance coverage available to you to help cover things like your medical bills and lost wages.   


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