Turning sixteen and getting one's driver's license is a nearly universal rite of passage -- and for many parents of teen drivers, a time of great worry and stress. With car crashes the leading cause of death for teens, and with about 25 percent of these crashes involving alcohol use, the risk of injury or death is unfortunately very real. If you do go through the most painful possible experience a parent can face, with another teen driver at fault for your child's death, can you sue this driver for wrongful death? Read on to learn more about how one's age at the time of a fatal car crash can affect your legal rights.
When can you sue a minor for wrongful death?
Wrongful death lawsuits are a type of tort law intended to compensate surviving family members for the financial and emotional losses suffered when their loved one dies due to another's negligent or reckless behavior. Wrongful death lawsuits can be filed against everyone from doctors and hospitals to drunk drivers or even murderers, and a successful lawsuit will usually result in the award of compensatory damages (like lost wages, funeral costs, or medical bills) as well as damages for loss of companionship and emotional distress.
While wrongful death lawsuits do have a wide breadth of potential defendants and circumstances, they are civil in nature -- and just as a minor can't legally enter into a binding contract without prior court approval, neither can a minor be sued for wrongful death of another minor except under a very specific set of exceptions.
- The minor is emancipated
If a teen has sued for emancipation from his or her parents and this has been granted by a court, he or she is legally an adult for most civil purposes. You'll usually be able to sue an emancipated child in situations where suing a dependent teen would fail.
- The minor is represented by a guardian
If the minor has a parent or guardian who seeks to take legal responsibility for his or her actions, you'll be able to sue the guardian for the teen's actions. Any judgment levied can be executed against the guardian (or the minor once he or she reaches adulthood).
What are your options if your teen driver was killed due to another teen's negligence?
Even if you're unable to directly sue the teen responsible for your child's death, you may still have a valid cause of action against one or more parties.
If your teen was killed in an accident involving alcohol, you may be able to sue the individual or company responsible for providing alcohol to the driver. For example, if the driver purchased this alcohol at a liquor store using a false identification that should have been spotted by the clerk, you may be able to sue the liquor store or even the clerk directly. If the driver stole this alcohol from his or her parents' liquor cabinet (or worse, if the parents furnished the alcohol directly), you may be able to sue the parents.
Depending on the circumstances of the crash, you could also have a cause of action against the auto manufacturer, dealership, or mechanic. For example, if the driver was sober and obeying traffic laws but skidded on a slick curve when the vehicle's antilock braking system failed to deploy, you could successfully argue that this mechanical failure directly led to your child's death. Determining the various factors involved in your child's death and the parties potentially responsible can be a difficult task, so you'll want to consult an experienced wrongful death attorney from a law firm like Allison & Rickards, Attorneys at Law, LLC to ensure you're taking advantage of every legal avenue available to you.