What happens in Texas if a child is hurt while riding as a passenger on a motorcycle, and the bike operator is the child’s parent? Can the parent be held responsible for money damages?
The short answer is yes, you can be held liable.
Generally speaking, the concepts of “parental immunity” bar a child from suing a parent for damages that result from the parent’s negligence. The courts in Texas have decided that to allow litigation between parents and a child is an adverse, unwarranted intrusion into the family circle.
However, the courts have carved out an exception to “parental immunity” when it comes to the negligent operation of a motor vehicle, including a motorcycle. In this case, the courts allow a child to sue a parent for damages. So, if your child is riding as a passenger on your motorcycle, and you are at fault in causing a wreck in which your child is injured, you can be held responsible for those damages.
Before we get into what this means in terms of liability insurance coverage, it’s important to understand Texas laws on children and motorcycle riding.
What Texas Law Says about Children and Motorcycles
Currently in Texas:
- It is illegal to carry a child younger than 5 on a motorcycle, except in an emergency situation. Carrying a child younger than 5 on your motorcycle is a misdemeanor that carries a $100 to $200 fine.
- Children age 5 through 18 can ride on your motorcycle, but just like any other passenger, they may ride only on the permanent and regular seat behind you or in a sidecar.
- As of January 1, 2015, motorcycles designed to carry two persons must have handholds and footrests for passengers. (Obviously, a lot of children won’t be able to reach the foot pegs, so that’s also a problem.)
- Finally, Texas law requires an operator or passenger on a motorcycle under the age of 21 to wear a helmet. You, as the operator of the motorcycle, commit an offense if you allow a person under the age of 21 to ride as a passenger on your motorcycle without a helmet.
Does My Motorcycle Insurance Protect Me?
The purpose of liability insurance is to pay for damages to another person for which you are legally responsible, including bodily injury. However, in Texas, these liability policies are subject to a family member exclusion. This means your child is EXCLUDED from liability coverage under your policy, and you have no insurance to cover injury to your child.
But wait, there’s more!
The exception to Exclusion Allows $30,000
Texas courts hold that because Texas law has a mandatory liability insurance requirement of $30,000, the family member exclusion is void as against public policy for the first $30,000. Huh? What does all this mean?
The bottom line is if you are an at-fault driver and your child (or any family member) is injured, the insurance company only has to pay damages up to $30,000. It doesn’t matter if your motorcycle insurance policy provides for greater than the minimum liability coverage. So even if you have $100,000 in liability insurance, you only have $30,000 in liability insurance when it comes to family members.
Another word of advice: In any motorcycle accident involving serious injury, you should consult an experienced motorcycle injury attorney before agreeing to any offers or signing any papers presented by any insurance company.
To sum up:
- No child under the age of 5 can ride on your motorcycle with you.
- You are responsible to make sure that any passenger under the age of 21 wears a helmet.
- Your motorcycle insurance policy will pay only $30,000 in damages to an injured child.
- You cannot allow a passenger on your motorcycle if it is not designed for a passenger and if it does not have handholds and footrests for the passenger.
- Talk to an attorney about accidents involving serious injuries before you agree to insurance offers.