A serious vehicle crash can have a devastating and long-lasting impact on your life and potentially on your entire family. Many people face substantial medical bills for immediate care followed by months, if not years, of physical therapy. They may be unable to work for a time and perhaps never be able to go back to the job they used to have.

An at-fault driver's insurance may not be sufficient to cover the costs. Sometimes the only way to get the compensation needed to deal with the financial, physical and emotional damages is through a civil lawsuit.

However, what if the driver responsible was a teen? That's not an unlikely scenario. Teens are inexperienced and often distracted drivers who usually don't react to dangerous situations on the road as well as more experienced drivers.

However, if you're involved in a serious accident caused by a teen driver, he or she likely doesn't have the funds you need for adequate compensation. Can their parents be held liable? In many cases, they can be.

Vicarious Liability

Most states, including California, have what are called "vicarious liability laws." These laws make parents and guardians liable for the actions of young drivers for as long as they're minors. Parents and guardians are required to co-sign the child's driver's license, agreeing to accept joint liability if the child is responsible for a crash.

Non-custodial parents may be able to avoid liability if they're not in contact with the child. For example, if the child lives with his mother, but the father moved to Dubai after the divorce and has little or no role in his child's life, chances are he can't be held liable.

"Follow the Car"

Some states, such as New York, have something called "follow the car" liability. That means that if the car's owner lets someone else drive the car (regardless of the age or relationship), that owner may be liable if the driver causes an accident. It doesn't matter whether the owner was in the car at the time or not.

If you or a loved one is injured by a teen driver, it's important to find out what the laws of your state say regarding parental liability. An experienced car accident attorney can provide important guidance.