Am I liable if my parent causes a car accident?

A fellow caregiver asked...

Am I liable if my older parent causes a car accident?

Expert Answer

As an older adult's driving capabilities diminish, many adult children worry not only about the parent's safety but also about their own liability for damages from an accident the parent causes. In general, adult children are not legally responsible for damages resulting from an accident caused by a parent. But there are some exceptions to this general rule. Here are the most common scenarios -- and how legal responsibility is determined in each.

  • Does providing my parent with financial support make me liable for his accident? The fact that you provide your parent with some or all financial support does not, by itself, make you legally responsible for the consequences of his actions, including driving a car. This is true even if he lives under your roof and you pay all expenses related to his driving, such as paying for the car or making car payments for him, or paying for insurance and gas. An exception can be if the car is registered in your name (see below).
  • Am I personally liable if I don't stop him from driving when I know he shouldn't? Whatever moral obligation you may have to your parent and others, you do not have a legal obligation to control your parent's driving of his own or someone else's car. (The story is different if you own the car; see below.) This is true regardless of what you know about your parent's physical condition, health history, driving record, and driver's license or insurance status.
  • Do I have any legal liability if I allow my parent to drive my car? If you let your parent drive your car -- meaning any car registered, leased, or rented to you -- when you know that his driving abilities are diminished or that he's not properly licensed, you may be liable for damages he causes in an accident. The laws about a car owner's liability for the accidents of another driver vary somewhat from state to state -- in some states, there's a monetary limit on the car owner's liability -- but in every state, you might be held legally responsible to some extent. To find out about the laws in your state regarding your potential financial liability for someone (whether your parent or anyone else) driving your car, contact the insurance agent or representative for your car insurance company. Ask what your potential liability is in your state as the owner of a car driven by someone else, and ask them to point out to you in your policy what insurance you have to cover it.