With little experience, teens are some of the most vulnerable drivers on the road. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, teens that text while driving are 26 times more likely to crash. In 2016, speeding was a factor in 32 percent of fatal teen crashes; and teens are more likely than anyone to die in an alcohol-related car accident.
The stats are scary, especially for parents who have teens on the road for the first time or are preparing for it in the near future.
Below, the Pennsylvania car accident lawyers from Hagelgans & Veronis discuss what to do if your teen wrecks your car, and how liability works in accidents involving teen drivers.
Teen Drivers & Pennsylvania Insurance
Pennsylvania has a graduated driver licensing law, which has helped mitigate accidents among first-time drivers. Teens beginning this process obtain a learner’s permit, followed by a junior license, and finally, an unrestricted license.
Generally speaking, teens do not need their own insurance policy until they’re driving with an unrestricted license. In most cases, it’s cheaper to add them to an existing policy, depending on the value of the vehicle.
Adding a teen to an existing policy means whatever coverages are available to the policyholder will extend to the teen driver in the event of an accident.
Additionally, Pennsylvania is a choice no-fault state—whatever coverage option is selected by the policyholder will also apply to the teen driver. For example:
- Full tort coverage allows a motorist and policyholder to retain unrestricted rights to bring a lawsuit against the negligent party in an accident.
- Limited tort insurance allows policyholders to save on their premiums by waiving their right to recover certain damages, such as payments for pain and suffering, except with some limited exceptions, most notably being hit by a drunk driver or an out of state driver. Electing Limited Tort does not prevent an injured victim from suing for non-economic damages when there is death or “serious injury.”
Minor crashes are bound to happen, and when they do, it’s more than likely that damages will be covered by a standard insurance policy, as long as the teen driver is named on the policy and there are adequate coverage limits.
However, Pennsylvania’s insurance requirements are low. If your teen seriously injures someone in a car accident, for example, and you only have the minimum bodily injury liability insurance ($15,000 per person; $30,000 per accident), that money won’t begin to cover the victim’s medical costs and rehabilitation.
Avoid potential problems by purchasing higher limits or expanding coverage types (i.e., collision, comprehensive, uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage etc.).
Total-loss Claims in Pennsylvania
What if your teen totals your car? Total-loss claims are often frustrating. Your insurer won’t care that your teen is an inexperienced driver or that you might not have enough money to buy a new car.
Collision and comprehensive coverage are not mandatory requirements in Pennsylvania. But without these coverages, you won’t be compensated if your teen wrecks your car.
Even if you have the right coverage, if you don’t have enough, you may face a total-loss decision. Insurance companies use several formulas to determine whether a car is worth repairing.
Generally, if repairs exceed the car’s fair market value (FMV) immediately before the accident, the car is totaled.
To avoid this scenario, parents and guardians should consider purchasing collision auto insurance coverage. This type of coverage applies to damage to your vehicle. It’s up to policyholders to purchase the right amount of coverage for their vehicle and their teen driver.
Collision coverage can offset out-of-pocket expenses for repairs or reimburse you in case of total loss.
Collision coverage may not be necessary if the car isn’t worth much, as the maximum payout for a totaled vehicle will only be its fair market value before the crash. Consider premium costs and the value of your vehicle carefully before adding this coverage to your policy.
Liability Concerns for Parents and Guardians
One concern many parents have regarding their teen driver is how liability gets distributed in the event of a crash. More specifically, can parents or guardians be held responsible for an accident their teen driver caused?
Negligent entrustment and vicarious liability are legal theories that can be used in cases where a parent or guardian knew, or should have known, that a teen driver was likely to cause an accident.
Examples include allowing a teen to drive without the appropriate license; or, allowing a teen to drive despite a dangerous history texting while driving.
According to Pennsylvania statute, “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…”