Ask the Experts

Legal Limit

I got a health checkup before school. Now my parents want me to see their lawyer. What are they afraid of?

Parents continue to be responsible for their children even when they go to college. It is natural that in our litigious society they want to make sure you are legally prepared for any eventuality.  When something goes wrong mom and dad usually end up paying for it. With over 15 million civil lawsuits filed in America every year, it pays to have some knowledge of legal liability.

You will be getting your first taste of freedom at college. There will be parties and shenanigans, so you need to understand what can happen when things go wrong. Parents are usually held responsible even though their kids are living away on campus. Over indulgence with drugs and alcohol can lead to some undesirable outcomes. You may need legal advice if you are the cause.

College students with limited driving experience are prime targets for litigation involving negligence and vehicles. You should be well aware of what can happen in the event of a traffic accident. If your parents own the vehicle, they may be implicated for your negligent operation, so they need to ensure they are covered legally.

Reckless driving, especially with students, is on the rise leading to pedestrian accidents and injuries. The law varies from state to state, in New York for example the owner of the vehicle is liable, not the driver. Your parents’ lawyer will want to make sure that you are clearly aware of the responsibilities of driving, especially if it is their car.

Students also often lend cars to their friends or share one amongst the dorm or frat house. Legal issues could arise if a driver is not insured, or worse does not have a license. Depending on the law where you live, the responsibility may not be with the person that causes the accident.

Your parents may want you to register the car in your own name and assume that responsibility. Be aware that if you are irresponsible with a car it could force you to leave college, especially if alcohol is involved.

Another legal problem is running up large debts on a credit card that is not yours. The Credit Card Act has made it more difficult for those under 21 with no income to get a credit card. However, if your parents have co-signed, they will be responsible for your debts. You need to learn how to deal with credit card companies, for example, understanding what is a chargeback, how to govern spending and how to handle a lost or stolen card.

These are just a few legal issues that may confront you at college, so your parents want to ensure you are covered legally.

The minute you read something that you can’t understand, you can almost be sure that it was drawn up by a lawyer…Will Rogers.

Miriam Metzinger is a regular contributor and editor for the financial website, Seeking Alpha.