According to state statistics for 2018, there were more than 80,500 teenage drivers on the roads in Pennsylvania. The most recent national crash statistics (2017) indicate that teen drivers between the ages of 16 and 19 are more likely to be involved in serious auto accidents than any other age group. In fact, the youngest drivers in that group, 16-year-olds—those who would be driving with a learner’s permit—are about 50% more likely to have an accident than drivers in the 17 to 19-year-old age group.
In Pennsylvania, teen drivers who are driving with a learner’s permit do so under certain restrictions:
- They must be accompanied by a licensed driver that is at least 21 years of age and is licensed to drive a vehicle of the same class or higher as that which appears on the permit.
- That can not drive between the hours of 11 pm and 5 am except for the purposes of employment or charitable volunteer work.
- They can not drive with more passengers than there are seat belts in the vehicle.
Those driving with a learner’s permit also face suspension of their driving privileges if they accumulate six or more points or are convicted of a single high-speed violation—driving 26 miles per hour or more over the speed limit.
Even with these extra measures in place to help ensure the safety of the public and the young drivers themselves, there are still many accidents on Pennsylvania’s roads every year involving drivers that are driving on a learner’s permit.
Clients who come to us because they’ve been involved in an accident with a young driver that was driving on a learner’s permit are often unsure about who is legally liable for injuries or damages caused in the accident.
Who Is Liable For Accidents With Drivers On A Learner’s Permit?
There are several different factors that come into play when trying to determine what kind of legal recourse you might have if you’ve been involved in an accident with a driver holding a learner’s permit. The first thing to consider is that since someone driving with a learner’s permit is likely to be 16 or 17 years old they would be considered a minor. That makes the situation different than getting into an accident with an adult driver.
The Possibility Of Vicarious Liability
One thing that may come into play is “vicarious liability”. In some cases, the parents of the person driving or the owner of the vehicle may become responsible for some or all of the damage caused. Vicarious liability comes into play when a third party had reason to know that their action (or lack of action) enabled someone else to negligently or recklessly inflict preventable damage or injury.
Vicarious liability can be relevant in many types of situations and relationships but in the specific case of the relationship between parent and child, Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes title 23, section 5502 states, “Any parent whose child is found liable or is adjudged guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction of a tortious [wrongful] act shall be liable to the person who suffers the injury to the extent set forth in this chapter.” Pa. Cons. Stat. title 23, section 5505 sets the limit for this liability at $1,000 per injured person or $2,500 per accident.
The Family Use Doctrine
Vicarious liability is often brought about through what is known as the family use doctrine. Very specific requirements must, however, be met for parents to be held liable for their children’s actions.
In the Pennsylvania Superior Court case Breslin v. Ridarelli (1982), the judge determined, “The family use doctrine is not a part of the law in Pennsylvania…To establish liability against an absent owner, it must be shown not only that the driver was the owner’s servant but also that such servant was at the time engaged in the master’s business so as to be subject to the master’s control or right of control…If a particular agent is not a servant, the principal is not considered a master who may be held vicariously liable for the negligent acts of the agent.”
The “master” would be the parent and the “servant” would be the child. Basically, what this means is that if the child was acting on his own and not under the orders or control of his or her parents, the parents would not be responsible for those actions.
Illegal Owner Consent
In some cases, liability may fall upon the vehicle’s owner if they knowingly allowed someone without a license (a teen driver with a learner’s permit) to drive the vehicle. For example, if a parent or sibling asked an unlicensed teen driver to make a short drive to a nearby store alone to buy bread and an accident occurred, the owner of the car could be held liable.
This is covered in Pa. Cons. Stat. title 75, section 1574, which states:
- No person shall authorize or permit a motor vehicle owned by him or under his control to be driven upon any highway by any person who is not authorized under this chapter or who is not licensed for the type or class of vehicle to be driven.
- Any person violating the provisions of subsection (a) is guilty of a summary offense and shall be jointly and severally liable with the driver for any damages caused by the negligence of such driver in operating the vehicle.
First-Party Insurance Claims
Since Pennsylvania is a choice no-fault state, most drivers will file an initial claim with their own insurance company when an accident occurs, regardless of who was involved. Although this is a good first step, it’s important to speak with a lawyer to investigate other options that may be open to you, especially if the accident involves serious injuries. You could give up your right to pursue other avenues of recourse if you sign the wrong papers.
Speak With An Experienced Pennsylvania Accident Attorney
As you can see, there are many variables that come into play when trying to determine who is liable for damages or injuries sustained in an accident with a teen driver holding a learner’s permit, It is especially important in these cases that you review all of your options before you sign any papers or agree on any type of payments or settlements.
At Solnick & Associates, we have the knowledge and experience needed to present a solid case and make sure that you receive all of the benefits to which you are entitled. Don’t take chances with your physical or financial well-being. If you’ve been involved in a car accident with someone driving with a learner’s permit on a Pennsylvania roadway, contact us online or call (877) 415-6495 to schedule a free consultation. We’ll be happy to go over the details of your case and discuss what we can do to help you.