A Georgia teen is in hot water after taking her mother’s car without her permission. The teen was involved in an accident that claimed the life of another driver. The teen was driving an SUV that collided with a truck. The truck’s driver died at the scene.
An incident like this brings up several legal issues that Kennesaw drivers should be familiar with. Below, we’ll discuss some of the issues with uninsured drivers and how they relate to teenagers who drive both without a license and without their parents’ permission.
Family Purpose Doctrine
Georgia law does not hold parents “automatically” liable for the negligent driving of their children. However, Georgia law does typically hold the owner of a vehicle responsible for any negligent driver’s actions. The “family purpose” doctrine establishes when parents are liable for the conduct of their children.
In Georgia, the owner of a vehicle can be held liable for the actions of a minor if the minor lives in vehicle owner’s immediate household at the time of the car accident. But only if specific conditions are met. Those conditions are as follows:
- The defendant owned the vehicle that was negligently driven;
- The negligent driver was a family member who lived in the same household;
- The owner of the vehicle knowing lent the vehicle for the “pleasure,” “comfort,” or “convenience” of the negligent driver;
- The vehicle was being loaned with the permission of the family member; and
- The family member who authorized the loan had a relationship of authority over the negligent driver.
In order to make a case against the girl’s mother, all five of these elements must be established. In other words, the mother is very lucky to be off the hook. In order to establish vicarious liability under Georgia’s family purpose doctrine, the plaintiff would need to show that the mother willingly lent the car to her daughter. Since it does not appear that this fact can be established, the case against the family is dead in the water.
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Uninsured Motorist Coverage in Georgia
What, if any, money the estate and loved ones of the deceased driver can collect will depend on the quality of the uninsured motorist (UM) coverage. If the deceased driver had UM coverage, the estate can file a claim on that coverage as could specific family members. These include spouses, children, or anyone else who could be said to be a “dependent” of the deceased driver. Damages in a wrongful death action include loss of love, companionship, consortium (for a spouse) and moral guidance (for children) as well as economic damages including medical bills associated with the accident, loss of potential income, and so forth.
This is where it helps to pay attention to your policy options. Georgia requires insurance companies to offer UM/UIM coverage, but it doesn’t require drivers to purchase it. If this driver elected to save money by refusing to purchase UM coverage, then their last resort would be to file a wrongful death action against the teen. Minors are held to the same standards that adults are. In this case, the minor would likely lose the lawsuit against the victim’s estate and loved ones.
If the Victim Had No UM Coverage
If the victim has no UM coverage, the estate and loved ones can file a wrongful death action against the teen and very likely win. At this point, the teen has some options. They can either pay the debt owed to the family over the course of a very long period of time (provided they have the income to do so), ignore the debt completely, or discharge the debt by filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
Most individuals in that position would probably attempt to discharge the debt in bankruptcy. However, now the teen will have the bankruptcy on her record which will make it very difficult for her to rebuild her credit.
In all likelihood, the family would not stand to recover much (if any) money from the teen.
Types of UM/UIM Coverage
The best kind of UM coverage is “stackable” UM coverage. You purchase a specific amount of UM coverage which sits on top of the other driver’s liability policy (if they have one). This is the best because you can recover damages from both insurance policies.
Non-stackable insurance policies are limited by a certain amount. For instance, if an at-fault driver carries $25,000 in liability insurance and your UM/UIM policies are not stackable, you would be limited to the policy limit on your UIM coverage. So, let’s say you carry $25,000 in UM/UIM coverage. You would only be entitled to recover the $25,000 paid out by the negligent driver’s insurance policy.
Many drivers elect to purchase non-stackable UM/UIM insurance policies because they’re cheaper and they’re reliable. In the case of the accident mentioned above, a stackable policy is irrelevant since the teen driver had no insurance at all.
So long as the victim had some UM/UIM insurance, the family will be able to file a claim on that policy and recover some money, probably the policy limit.
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Do I Need an Attorney to File a Claim Against My Own Policy?
Of course, we’re biased here, but the sad fact is that you do. Insurance adjusters who settle claims are used to clients who have not scoured over every word of their policies and can be cheated out of money that they otherwise should be entitled to recover. In these cases, it helps, especially for major claims, to have an attorney go through the policy line for line and ensure that you receive the maximum possible settlement.
Talk to a Kennesaw, GA Car Accident Attorney Today
If you’ve been injured in a serious car accident, you should seek out the help of a seasoned car accident lawyer even when you’re filing a claim against your own policy. We ensure that you get every penny that you’re owed and prevent the insurance company from short-changing you. Call the Roger Ghai Law Offices today for a free consultation.