Can You Sue a Minor for a Car Accident in Missouri?


Liability for minors in MO car accidents

Car accidents are terrifying and traumatic, especially when they result in serious injuries to you and/or your loved ones. Discovering that the driver responsible for your accident is a minor adds an additional level of frustration because children cannot be expected to act as prudently as adults and aren’t held to the same standards. We know an adult driver whose careless or reckless actions behind the wheel cause an accident is responsible for the damages, such as property damage, medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering, but what if the negligent driver was a minor?

Who Is Liable for Damages When a Minor Causes a Car Accident?

Missouri law treats a car accident claim differently when the driver at fault for the accident was a minor. In most car accident and personal injury claims in Missouri, the judge instructs the jury  to ask, “Would another, reasonably prudent person have acted differently under the same circumstances?” If the answer is yes, the at-fault individual is liable for the damages resulting from their imprudent actions. However, the state doesn’t hold minors to the same standard. Instead, parents are liable for damages up to $2,000 when their minor child causes property damage and/or physical injury to others if they should reasonably have known that the child could cause harm—for instance, if they allow a newly licensed driver out in a sports car, or if they let their minor child with only a learner’s permit to drive without an adult present. Because the state caps a parent’s responsibility for damages to only $2,000, the majority of car accident cases involving minor drivers go to court so the injury victim can pursue a lawsuit against the minor driver separately from parental responsibility.

When a minor causes a car accident in Missouri, settling a claim out of court becomes difficult. Many car accident claims against minors go to court because they come down to a jury deciding whether or not the minor is responsible for their negligent actions and liable for damages, so hiring a St. Louis car accident attorney is crucial.

Deciding Whether or Not a Minor is Responsible for Damages in a Car Accident Claim

The subjective rule for minor negligence divides children into age groups determining their level of responsibility for their actions. According to this rule, children under the age of seven and between ages 7 and 14 are not negligent because they cannot be expected to act prudently. However, children between the ages of 14 and 17, can be determined as negligent in their actions.

When a jury decides on a car accident case involving a minor driver, the court asks them to consider whether or not another minor of the same age would have acted similarly or differently under the same circumstances. Often, this comes down to a jury deciding on issues such as, “Would a reasonable 15-year-old have snuck out of the house with the car keys and driven alone with only a learner’s permit?” or “Would another 16-year-old driver have answered a text message while behind the wheel in traffic?” The individual facts of the case presented to the jury help them decide whether or not to hold a minor accountable for their actions.

Missouri’s Unique Child Liability Work Allowance

Missouri law is unique in that it allows the plaintiff and defendant in a car accident claim against a minor the option of agreeing to a work arrangement instead of a parent’s direct payment of their $2,000 parental responsibility amount to the car accident victim. If all parties in a minor car accident case in Missouri agree, a child may work off the parent’s $2,000 responsibility by performing tasks or chores for the accident victim.