It is no secret that car accidents are the leading cause of death for teenagers in America. Drivers age 16-19 are 4-times more likely to die in a car accident than any other age group. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, approximately 2,000 teenagers die in traffic accidents each year and 200,000 suffer injuries. In Massachusetts, around 50 teens suffer fatal car accident injuries annually.
Causes of Teen Car Accidents
There are a variety of reasons for why teens are involved in a disproportionate number of accidents:
- Inexperience-teens are more likely to be involved in a fatal crash within the first 6-months after receiving their driver’s license
- Distraction—teens have grown up with smartphones and continue using them while driving despite laws banning hand-held use; about 35% of teens text and drive
- Teens are more prone to driving while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs
- They often drive with friends in the car and focus more on them than on driving
- Teens are more likely to speed
- They are apt to drive without a seat belt—55% of teens killed in car accidents were unrestrained
Getting a driver’s license is an important step in a teenager’s life. Parents have a role in educating teens on the risks of driving and to see that they drive sober, without distractions, and to not take unnecessary risks. This includes warning teens about getting into a car with a driver who has been drinking or who insists on texting while driving.
Teen Driving Laws
In Massachusetts, you can get a driver’s license at age 16. Before the Registry of Motor Vehicles ( RMV) gives you a license, you must first obtain a Junior Operator License at age 15. Drivers with a JOL are not allowed to drive with passengers except siblings and parents during their first 6-months, and may not drive at all between the hours of 12:30 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. No driver under the age of 18 may use a cellphone at all, even if hands-free.
Parental Liability for Teen Accidents
Teenage drivers like everyone else are required to be insured. Most are on their parent’s auto liability policy as an added driver, though they may have their own policy. But parents may bear responsibility for a teen who causes an accident under some circumstances.
Parental liability only applies if the parent knew that their teen son or daughter had a history of reckless driving, but they allowed their child to drive regardless. For instance, if their son had been arrested and convicted of drunk driving but the parents allowed him to drive anyway and caused an accident, then the parent could be held liable for negligent entrustment or legal presumption of control. Massachusetts law in this case only applies to teens between the ages of 7 and 18. Since the standard for this is willful conduct and damages are limited to only $5,000, this avenue of seeking compensation is rarely used. Also, most car accidents are the result of negligence and not intentional conduct.
Further, a parent can escape possible liability by claiming or showing that they took reasonable steps to prevent their son or daughter from driving by refusing them access to the car and hiding the keys.
If a teen driver is suspected of causing your injuries, then you may pursue a third-party claim and seek compensation through that party’s auto liability policy once you have crossed the no-fault threshold in our state. You satisfy the threshold if your medical expenses are at least $2,000 or your injuries meet a “seriousness” standard.
Other Sources of Compensation
Your car accident lawyer has other possible avenues of compensation if a teen driver caused your accident injuries. If a vendor such as bar or restaurant served the underaged teen, or any other obviously intoxicated person who then drove and caused an injury accident, then Massachusetts law holds the vendor liable for any resulting injuries. Teens often use fake IDs to gain entry to bars or nightclubs, or vendors simply do not check IDs in some cases. If the teen’s fake ID was poorly made, was demonstrably false, or the teen looked to obviously under the age of 21, the vendor will have a poor defense to having served an underaged patron.
Social hosts who served underage persons may also be held liable under negligence and dram shop laws. Their homeowner’s policy may cover them for injuries caused by the teen who caused an injury accident after drinking at the home.
If a teen lacked auto liability insurance, you can use the uninsured (UM) provision in your policy to seek compensation. UM coverage is included in all auto liability policies in Massachusetts.
Damages in Teen Accident Claims
Damages in any injury claim depend on the nature and extent of your injuries. These may include:
- Past and future medical expenses
- Past and future income loss
- Loss of earning capacity
- Diminished quality of life
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Spousal claim for loss of consortium
In a wrongful death case, the administrator for the decedent’s estate may bring a claim against the at-fault driver on behalf of the decedent’s immediate family members. Damages in wrongful death claims typically include:
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Medical expenses incurred before death
- Lost earnings the decedent would have earned over his/her lifetime
- Pain and suffering if the decedent was observed to have consciously suffered before succumbing
- Loss of the decedent’s love, companionship, counsel, and guidance
- Punitive damages if the defendant’s conduct was grossly negligent or willful and wanton
Retain a Car Accident Lawyer at Tetzel Law
If you or a loved one sustained injuries or was killed in any car accident, you will need the skill and knowledge of an experienced car accident lawyer at Tetzel Law. Call (617) 742-1700 to schedule a free consultation about your injury claim.