Helping College Students and Their Parents Avoid Liability

The transition to college is one of the most exciting and stressful moments in the lives of both children and parents.  Suddenly, the newly-fledged adult is responsible for making his or her own decisions about safety, health, and behavior – often with little or no parental input.

caution liabilityWhile few college students list “avoiding lawsuits” among their top college concerns, college does open up new risks when it comes to personal liability.  Here’s what college students and parents need to know in order to protect themselves:

Auto Accidents

When one driver causes a car accident, legal responsibility for the accident begins with that driver.  But it doesn’t always end there.

While parents cannot be held automatically responsible for anything their child does solely because they are the child’s parents, they may be held liable for an accident in a situation in which the parent had a legal duty of care that he or she failed to meet.  A few situations in which a parent might be responsible for an accident include:

  • Entrusting a child with an automobile, when the parent knows the child is reckless, incompetent, or not legally licensed to drive it,
  • Failing to supervise a child who then causes injury to another,
  • Being the owner of a vehicle involved in an accident caused by the driver.

Because liability for a car accident often follows the car’s owner, both college students who own their own vehicles and parents who own their student’s car can protect themselves by:

  • Not loaning vehicles to friends.  The owner may become liable even if he or she had nothing to do with the friend’s behavior.
  • Avoiding driving abroad, in inclement weather, or when under the influence of any substance.  Check out the university’s public transportation or “dial a ride” options.

Partying

Most college students – and many adults – consider partying an integral part of the college experience.  But parties pose risks if students and their parents don’t take precautions.

  • Make a guest list.  A guest list might seem antithetical to every laid-back, feel-good ideal a party stands for.  But inviting people you trust and knowing who should be there helps both college students and their parents avoid becoming responsible for an accident that could have been prevented.
  • Be a parent, not a friend.  Someone has to be the “backstop” for any potential bad decisions, and when a party is in a parent’s home, that person is the parent.  Institute a zero-tolerance policy for underage drinking and drunk driving, and don’t be afraid to call an immediate halt to a party if these rules are violated.  Your kids will forgive you, but the effects of a serious accident may linger forever.

Credit Card Liability

It used to be easy for college students to get credit cards.  Now, with the recent passage of the Credit Card Act, students under age 21 with no income whose parents do not co-sign for them cannot get a credit card at all.  This change has helped protect many students, but puts parents on the line.

Parents who decide to co-sign can help limit their liability by keeping the credit limit low and setting clear ground rules for the card’s use: emergencies and school expenses only.  Remind students that the charges are their responsibility, and that a credit card is not a free pass for shopping sprees.

By sticking to the credit limit and paying off the balance in full each month, students protect themselves, too.  Credit card interest builds up fast, and an unpaid card offers only a fast track into collections and a decimated credit score. With a few simple steps, both students and parents can enjoy the college years without the burden of a lawsuit.  College is an investment in the future – don’t let an avoidable mistake send all that hard work to waste.

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Cohen Jaffe

Attorney Richard Jaffe is a partner at the Law Office of Cohen & Jaffe, LLP on Long Island, NY. He is a member of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association, the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, the New York State and Nassau County Bar Associations and the National Association of Personal Injury Lawyers. His main practice areas include personal injury, medical malpractice, insurance liability and products liability. In addition to other activities, his pro-bono work includes representing families of the victims of 9/11, and citizens whose lives were adversely affected by Hurricane Sandy. Richard has also served as a firefighter and medic for the Jericho Fire Department on Long Island View all posts by Cohen Jaffe

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