Tampa Teens Who Wrongfully Get Behind the Wheel Can Cause Serious Accidents

March 17, 2022
Tampa Teens Who Wrongfully Get Behind the Wheel Can Cause Serious Accidents

Teenage Car Theft Claims Lives in the Tampa Bay Area

In recent years, the Tampa Bay area has been plagued with deadly car accidents resulting from reckless driving by teenagers in stolen vehicles. On March 12th, 2022, Tampa police attempted to execute a traffic stop on a stolen vehicle occupied by 4 young teenagers.  The teens attempted to escape, leading police on a chase through the streets of Hillsborough that ended in a fatal rear-end collision. The other car was launched into a telephone pole, killing the driver and severely wounding the other two passengers. Not only are there licensing consequences and criminal charges for unlicensed teen drivers who steal cars, but they can also face civil charges if their negligence is deemed responsible for a Tampa car accident. Parents and teens should be aware that the negligence displayed by minors who wrongfully get behind the wheel can result in a personal injury lawsuit

Tampa Has a Troubling History of Teenage Car Thieves Causing Property Damage and Injuries in Stolen Vehicles

Tampa's Police Chief Mary O'Connor voiced the frustrations of many Hillsborough County residents in a news conference following Saturday's crash. She said, “this is no video game,” a nod to the popular video game series Grand Theft Auto, which some blame for the rise in car thefts in the Tampa Bay area. In 2015 alone, over 400 minors were arrested for car theft in Pinellas County, which contains the cities of Saint Petersburg and Clearwater right next to Tampa. The true crime rate is certainly higher, these are just the kids that got caught or survived a car accident. Tragically, too many Tampa teens aren't as lucky.

Car Accident Victims of Tampa Teens Can Sue for Gross Negligence

In addition to the lives lost and injuries incurred by the teenage car thieves, nearby pedestrians and motorists alike have been impacted. Through no fault of their own, the gross negligence of these teen drivers has left victims to shoulder staggering medical bills and extensive car repairs.  Brain injuries, skin lacerations, and neck and back issues are just a few examples of common car accident injuries. Injured drivers or pedestrians may be left unable to walk, speak, or work. Victims have few options but to mount a personal injury lawsuit for compensatory damages.

Teens Intentionally Exhibit Reckless Driving Behaviors, Leading to Devastating Tampa Car Accidents

Teens are already known to be distracted drivers, but in Tampa, many young car thieves have taken it to the next level. This complete disregard for safety puts the teens, their passengers, and other road users at risk of being rear-ended, shot, or involved in head-on collisions. A Tampa Bay Times investigation that interviewed teenage car thieves found that they drove the wrong way down roads and bridges, discharged loaded guns they find tucked away in the unlocked vehicles, and sped in excess of 100 mph, just to name a few disturbing behaviors.  26% of fatal car accidents involve speeding, but the Tampa Police Department knows the risks of a high-speed police chase so they avoid provoking teen car thefts into speeding whenever possible. In a lawsuit, some injured bystanders might even attempt to hold the police liable for initiating the teen's reckless driving. 

The Role of Social Media in Tampa Car Theft Accidents Caused by Teens

Although some of the car accidents and property damage can be attributed to their youth and inexperience with driving, Tampa teens who commit car theft often deliberately engage in risky behavior to impress their passengers and friends on social media.  They also use it to trade tips and warn each other about law enforcement in the area. The Tampa Bay Times investigation also found that many of the teens involved in this car theft enterprise proudly posted about their crimes online, which law enforcement can use as evidence With the help of an expert, it also connected 287 of the teens arrested over an 18 month period in 2015 and 2016 to over half of the juvenile car thefts during that time. The other key fact is that this same group of kids is also responsible for “most of the crashes and the vast majority of gunplay.”

Tampa Teens Who Steal Cars Face Fewer Consequences Than You Might Think

Investigations have shown that many of the teens in high-profile fatal car accidents have multiple convictions for car theft already on their records, which parents, law enforcement, attribute to the lack of meaningful consequences for teens who engage in auto theft. Tampa teens often get away with theft and reckless driving until they are brought in on charges that carry a heavier punishment, like vehicular homicide. They may even be tried as adults.  In a civil court, the families of car accident victims can pursue damages in a car accident lawsuit, that can include medical bills, lost wages, lost earning potential, as well as pain and suffering.

The Ongoing Effort to Reduce Teen Car Theft in the Tampa Area

Emboldened by the lack of repercussions, teens can rack up a record of arrests with little to no corresponding jail time. To alleviate this plague, public officials are met with limited options, and many community leaders are hesitant to support longer lockups.  When teens know there will be virtually no consequences, they have no reason to cease their behavior. To address this, public officials have attempted to reduce the rash of car thefts by updating the Detention Risk Assessment Instrument to impose stiffer penalties for repeat offenders, but the crisis still continues.

Why is It Difficult to Penalize Tampa Teens Who Steal Cars and Cause Accidents?

Under Florida law, the rehabilitation of teenagers who steal cars is given priority over their punishment. The Tampa Bay Times points out that this is demonstrated by the fact that teens with learners' permits can collect 6 points on their license before facing major restrictions, and 12 before being held.  They also note that there are no points penalized for a first car theft offense, as car theft is considered to be property theft in Florida. Because the criminal justice system is already overburdened, teens may not even serve time in juvenile detention or even mental health and drug treatment centers.  Additionally, police are barred from chasing car theft suspects unless they already know that the person in question has committed a violent crime, so some offenders escape, even from the scenes of serious accidents.

Parents May Be Liable if a Teen Causes a Wrongful Death in a Car Accident

If your car was stolen and involved in a Tampa teen car accident, you will not be held liable for damages. Most comprehensive insurance will cover the cost of repairing or replacing a stolen vehicle. In Florida, drivers are covered because they are required to be equipped with $10,000 worth of Property Damage Liability for their own vehicles.  Owners of stolen vehicles are exempt from Florida's Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine which holds the owner of potentially dangerous tools accountable for the damage done in the hands of others, but only when they are willingly loaned.

Are the Teen Car Thieves Liable for Stolen Car Accident Damages?

In the Tampa cases, the accidents were caused by teens driving stolen cars, making them liable for the damage they inflicted. The teen may face time in a detention center or a delayed license, but many are not yet old enough to have their own license, let alone insurance.  In a personal injury lawsuit, the car accident victim that was injured because of the teen car thief's negligent driving would be seeking compensation not from the teen but from their parents. While these teenage car thieves may not have insurance that can provide restitution in a car accident claim, their parents will more than likely have insurance that will cover their child.  The parents of these negligent teen drivers can be considered liable in the event their child's recklessness causes a severe accident that injures someone. This applies to legal guardians or whatever institution the teen driver is under the care of.  Occasionally there may be other parties that may be considered liable but in the majority of cases, whoever the teen is under the care of will bear the responsibility and liability. 

How Can a Personal Injury Lawyer Help Me Recover Damages in a Car Accident Lawsuit?

Determining liability in a car accident caused by a teenager who wrongfully got behind the wheel of a stolen car may seem straightforward, but the process of recovering damages is typically more complicated. That's why hiring a qualified car accident lawyer is a vital first step in a successful personal injury claim. At Dolman Law Group, our team of lawyers has handled many Tampa car accident cases, and we have successfully recovered damages for victims of reckless teen drivers. We will use police reports, video surveillance, social media posts, and any other evidence to craft an airtight case that demonstrates a Tampa teen's careless driving led to an accident that resulted in your injuries.  Dolman Law Group will seek a variety of damages, advocate for you against big insurance companies, and get you and your car evaluated by respected professionals. We will do everything in our power to secure you compensation for the damages you have suffered as a result of your accident.

Contact Dolman Law Group for Help With Your Tampa Car Accident Lawsuit

When your life is turned upside down by a stolen car accident, you need someone you can trust to manage your personal injury lawsuit. The damages you suffer could have implications for the rest of your life in terms of your financial, physical, and mental health. That's not something we take lightly.  Clients of Dolman Law Group can expect a skilled car accident attorney to handle their lawsuit. We have years of experience supporting our clients in complicated car accident claims, and we get results Dolman Law Group is familiar with the stress that accompanies any lawsuit, and our service reflects that. We offer a free, no-commitment consultation, and our lawyers are in constant contact with their clients. You'll never have to wonder if your case is a priority to us. Contact us at (833) 55-CRASH for auto accidents. You can also send us an email on our contact us page.  

Matthew Dolman

Clearwater Personal Injury and Insurance Attorney

This article was written and reviewed by Matthew Dolman. Matt has been a practicing civil trial, personal injury, products liability, and mass tort lawyer since 2004. He has represented over 11,000 injury victims and has served as lead counsel in over 1000 lawsuits. Matt is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum for resolving individual cases in excess or $1 million and $2 million, respectively. He has also been selected by his colleagues as a Florida Superlawyer and as a member of Florida’s Legal Elite on multiple occasions. Further, Matt has been quoted in the media numerous times and is a sought-after speaker on a variety of legal issues and topics.

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