The legal landscape can be complex after a car accident, and there are many doctrines that govern liability and how laws are applied. One is the Family Car Doctrine. How does this work and what does it mean for you?

Parental Liability

In a general sense, in states that use these laws -- about half of them -- it means that a child can take a family car, be involved in an accident, and then the parents can be liable along with the child. The idea here is that the parents gave the child the car to use and so they are partially responsible, as the accident would never have happened had the child not had a car at his or her disposal.

Lack of Permission

One key thing to note about the Family Car Doctrine is that permission to use the car usually has to be given. If the child asks and the parents consent, they're taking on the potential liability should an accident occur. If the parents say no, the child can't use the car, and then the child sneaks out in the middle of the night and borrows it, anyway -- without their knowledge -- parents may not be liable. They tried to stop the child from using the vehicle and therefore tried to stop the wreck.

Keeping Parents Responsible

These laws do show parents that they need to be responsible in their own decision making. A car is a two-ton machine that can cause life-long injuries and death in mere seconds. Parents need to remember this when deciding if they'll give a child one of these machines to use. While the Family Car Doctrine may feel unfair in some cases, since the parents themselves did not make any mistakes behind the wheel, it is an acknowledgment of the role parents play in their children's lives as providers and decision-makers.

Determining Liability

Again, not all states use the Family Car Doctrine, so it's important to know if your state does when researching your rights and responsibilities after a crash. This doctrine helps determine how a lawsuit may proceed after fault is determined.