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Scott McDonald and Associates PLLC

What Happens When Your Teenager Causes a Fatal Washington Car Accident?

On Tuesday, December 8, 2009 a 16 year-old Snohomish County girl died as a result of a fatal car accident near Granite Falls, WA.  The girl was a passenger in a car with two other 17 year-old teenagers. The cause of the accident is still under investigation.  Our prayers and condolences go out to the girl's family.

A worst case scenario for all parents of teenage drivers. You may be asking yourself what happens if my teenager causes a fatal Washington car accident? The answer can be a little scary for parents, especially if not fully insured. 

Any person that dies as a result of a car accident that was caused by the negligence or carelessness of another person has a Washington wrongful death claim. This is true for multiple vehicle car accidents as well as passengers in a single vehicle accident. The driver that kills one of his passengers is in the same position as a driver that hits another car killing a person in the other vehicle. Washington wrongful death claims in most cases have a very high value and can result in liability claims in the millions of dollars.

The at fault driver can also face stiff criminal charges including vehicular homicide. If the driver was drunk or acting with total disregard for safety (like street racing) you can expect a felony charge for vehicular manslaughter or homicide. Jail time will likely be required of the driver whether by trial verdict or plea deal.  Scary proposition for a teenager!

Then there's the financial fall out. Most responsible parents make sure their teenage driver has car insurance. This usually means adding the teenager to the parents car insurance policy. As any parent of a teenage driver can tell you this is a very expensive endeavor. But the reason you do this is for this very scenario, you child causes a serious injury or fatal Washington car accident. Most teenagers have very little or no financial assets.  That means any wrongful death claim will in all likelihood target you, the parent.  Because the teenager is likely living in your home, driving a car owned by you, your financial life is on the line as well. How, you ask?

In Washington there is a legal theory called the "Family Car Doctrine." The family car doctrine states that if a family member (parent) provides a vehicle to a household member (teenager) to use and a Washington injury car accident happens, then the family member (parent) is also on the hook for the damages caused by the household member (teenager). That means if your teenager borrows your car or you gave him/her a car and you pay for all the maintenance, then you're on the hook for the damage your kid causes with that car.  Your entire financial assets can therefore be vulnerable to attack if your car insurance does not cover all the damages caused by your teenager's serious injury or fatal car accident. Scary isn't it?

What should you do to protect yourself and your family? Purchase as much insurance coverage as you can afford.  That can include high liability limits on your car insurance, like $500,000 or more, and combining that with an umbrella policy of $1,000,000 or more. A teenager causing a fatal car accident is a nightmare, but it can double by adding a civil wrongful death lawsuit on top of it.  Protect your family by purchasing the proper amount of insurance.   

For more information about purchasing car insurance check out our FREE report The Guide To Buying Car Insurance In Washington.