Parents may be liable for the negligent or criminal acts of their children. This liability begins when children are eight to ten and ends at the age of majority. A third party can sue parents if their child causes injuries or property damage to them.
This article covers parental liability under common law, including criminal and civil liability. We will also review the implications of parental liability on insurance coverage. We will also include a summary of parental liability laws in select states.
Civil Parental Liability
Parents are responsible for malicious or willful property damage by their children. This is called civil parental liability because it's non-criminal. The parent must compensate the party harmed by their child's actions.
Parental civil liability intends to compensate victims of torts. It also intends to encourage parental control and supervision. Parental civil liability begins when the minor is between eight and ten years old. It ends at the age of majority, which is between 18 and 21, depending on state law.
Civil liability laws may impose monetary limits on the damages that can be collected and on the age limits of the child, which may vary by state.
Hawaii's parental liability law is one of the most broadly applied laws. It doesn't limit financial recovery. It imposes liability for negligent and intentional torts committed by the minor child.
Criminal Parental Liability
In 1903, Colorado was the first state to enact a law against "contributing to the delinquency of a minor."
Most states now have parental responsibility laws against contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Parents who stray from the normal standards of parental supervision and control can be jailed or fined. The court can also order them to pay restitution to the person victimized by the child's delinquent acts.
Other examples of criminal liability include firearm access and internet crime-related laws. Many states also have child firearm access prevention laws. These laws usually make it illegal for a parent to leave a firearm within reach of their child.
In some cases, parents have also been civilly responsible for their child's online crimes.
Specific State Examples of Parental Liability Laws
Parental liability laws are different in every state.
In this section, we will look at examples of parental liability laws in several states.
In California, parents can be liable for their child's willful misconduct resulting in injury or death to another person. Parents can also be liable for property damage, attorney fees, and court costs. California imposes a monetary limit of $25,000 per act of willful misconduct. However, California also provides that the monetary limit can be increased every two years.
Texas law does not hold parents liable for personal injury caused by a child's actions. Texas does hold parents liable for property damage caused by their child's willful actions when the child is 10 years or older but under 18 years. A Texas parent can be found liable for a child's property damage caused by negligence where the child's negligence can be attributed to the parent. There is a limit of $25,000 per occurrence their child causes, plus court costs and attorney fees.
In Illinois, parents can be liable for the willful or malicious property damage caused by their child. They can also be liable for personal injury resulting from their child's actions. Illinois imposes a limit of $20,000 per occurrence, plus court costs and attorney fees.
What Is the Age of Majority?
The age of majority is the age at which a person is an adult in the eyes of the law. At the age of majority, a person is no longer subject to parental control.
The age of majority is 18 in most of the United States. Upon reaching the age of majority, children are no longer the legal responsibility of their parents.
When a child reaches the age of majority, they can legally make decisions for themselves. Their parents are no longer responsible for their negligent acts.
Here are some examples of how reaching the age of majority affects parental rights and liability:
- Financial obligations: Parents have financial responsibility for the actions of their minor child before they reach the age of majority. After a minor child reaches the age of majority, they are responsible for their own debts and financial obligations.
- Medical decisions: Before reaching the age of majority, children cannot make medical decisions for themselves. After reaching the age of majority, people 18 years of age have the right to make their own medical decisions without parental consent.
- Education: Under parental liability law, parents are generally responsible for the educational delinquency of a minor. Under such laws, after reaching the age of majority, individuals can choose whether to continue their education.
- Contracts: A minor child cannot enter into a binding contract without parental consent. Once they reach the age of majority, anyone can enter into contracts without parental consent.
What Are the Insurance Coverage Implications for Parental Liability?
Insurance policies can provide financial protection for parents. These policies can ease the financial burden of a parental liability claim.
Homeowners' insurance policies often include coverage for personal liability. These policies may extend to cover damages caused by a policyholder's child.
In the event of a parental liability claim, the policy may cover attorney's fees or the victim's financial compensation. This coverage might cover up to the policy limits.
Like homeowners' insurance, renters' insurance policies sometimes include personal liability coverage. This personal liability coverage may extend to the policyholder's children.
When a child's actions involve driving without a driver's license, the parents' auto insurance policy may be available. The policy can cover property damage or medical expenses caused by the minor child while driving the parents' car.
Parental Liability for Vandalizing School Property
Vicarious liability and parental liability laws in many states extend to cover cases where a minor child vandalizes school property. Vicarious liability holds someone liable for someone else's actions. These laws make parents responsible for the damages caused by their child's actions.
When a minor has vandalized school property, they may face community service, probation, or juvenile detention. The punishment depends on the severity of the damage and their prior record.
In some cases, the minor may also need to take part in counseling or educational programs. These programs aim to address the underlying issues that led to the vandalism.
Parents may need to pay for the repairs, replacement, or cleaning of the vandalized property. They may also be responsible for costs incurred by the school due to vandalism or defacement.
What Are the Defenses To Parental Liability?
In cases where parents face potential liability for their child's actions, there are legal defenses they can use. These defenses may protect them from liability.
Here are some potential defenses parents can use to argue against civil liability:
- Reasonable Supervision: Parents can argue that they took reasonable care to supervise and control their child's actions. Parents can argue that they tried to prevent their child from participating in risky activities.
- Unforeseeable Actions: Parents can argue that their child's actions were unforeseeable and could not have been reasonably anticipated. This defense can be used if the child's acts were highly unusual, and the parents had no reason to believe their minor child would commit the act.
- Lack of Causation: Parents can argue that there is no link between their negligence and the injury or harm caused by their child's acts.
How a Family Law Attorney Can Help You
A skilled family law attorney is worth the cost of representation.
If you are a legal guardian, and your minor child injures someone else, seek the advice of a family law attorney. Don't wait any longer to establish your attorney-client relationship.