Parent Liability: Selected State Laws

A parent's liability is generally broken down into either civil or criminal liability. It is also rooted in the common law.

Anyone with experience raising children will tell you kids have wills of their own. Sometimes, they would do things that got them and their parents into trouble. Parental responsibility laws form the foundation of these liabilities. But while parents can't always control what their kids do from one moment to the next, most states recognize parent liability for certain acts children commit. These acts include property damage and personal injury.

 As an example of civil liability, many states operating under torts require parents to accept liability. In some states, for example, you may face criminal charges for letting your child access a firearm at home. Legal guardians would also fall under the same statutes.

Vicarious liability is an integral part of many of these laws. Here, the laws could hold parents liable for the acts of their children. This liability applies even if the parents were not directly involved or aware of these acts. In New Jersey, for instance, the state has its regulations concerning parental liability. This applies in particular when a child causes damage to school property or if they engage in shoplifting.

See the following list for more examples of state parental liability laws among certain states.

Select State Parent Liability Laws

Almost all states have parental responsibility laws that hold parents or legal guardians of the child liable. This parental responsibility applies to personal injury, theft, shoplifting, real or personal property damage, vandalism, and other crimes. These statutory liabilities may have limits and specific conditions attached to them. State statutes may also place specific dollar limits on these acts.

In general, you are not automatically liable for malicious acts done by your child. But parental responsibility laws could make you accountable. As a parent, you can be liable for the damages caused by your child's intentional acts.


Parents are liable for intentional acts of their children that injure others or damage their property. Arizona laws may charge parents up to $10,000 in damage. In some circumstances, this legal responsibility may extend to the total value of the victim's damages.


Parents are responsible if the parent knows the child's potential for misconduct. Then, they fail to take reasonable steps to prevent such misconduct. Parental responsibility in California also applies to the following:

  • The parent has signed the child's driver's license application
  • The child drives the parent's car with the parent's knowledge and permission
  • The child is guilty of willful misconduct
  • The child is given ready access to a firearm


The laws of Colorado impose liability on parents for willful or malicious personal injury or property damage caused by their minor child. A liability is also attributed to the person who signed the affidavit of liability when the minor child applied for a driver's license. The liability attaches if the laws found the minor guilty of willful misconduct or negligence while driving. The dollar limit for personal injury or property damage is $3,500.


Florida law places no limits on the liability of parents for the damages caused by minors driving a motor vehicle. There's also no limit on parental liability for the acts of a minor resulting in willful destruction or theft of property.


Hawaii does not have a dollar limit on parents' liability. Thus, the parent's liability is unlimited. This applies to the liability of minors for driving motor vehicles, tortious acts, and vandalism.


The liability statutes of Illinois make parents responsible for malicious or willful acts of their child that cause damage to property or personal injury. The parents are also civilly liable for retail theft caused by their child. In such cases, the law imposes a $20,000 limit on the parent's liability.


If the court adjudicates the juvenile as delinquent, the parents or custodians may be required to participate in programs. This includes programs for care, treatment, or rehabilitation for the juvenile. The parents may also be held financially responsible for any services provided. It may also include the costs of returning the child from another jurisdiction and those associated with the juvenile proceedings. If the parent or guardian defaults in reimbursing the county or fails to pay any required fee, the Juvenile Court may find him/her in contempt. The court will enter judgment for the amount due. A parent is liable to another person for up to $5,000.00 in actual damages arising from harm to a person or property caused by a child. This liability applies if the child is in their custody. The parent may also be fully liable for all damages from gang activity.


Kansas' dollar limit on parents' liability is $5,000 plus court costs. However, parental liability is unlimited if the parents are found to be negligent.


The Massachusetts law imposes liability on parents for the willful acts of the minor that cause damage to property or injury to persons. The dollar limit on the parent's liability is $2,500.

New York

Parents are liable when their children "willfully, maliciously, or unlawfully" damage property. There is a cap of $5,000 per incident. Limiting the parents' financial status may mitigate damages. The courts may mitigate damages if someone shows that the parents provided diligent supervision.


In Texas, liability is imposed on parents for the child's malicious, willful, or negligent acts that cause property damage. But, the acts of the child should be reasonably attributable to the parent's negligence in doing their parental duties. If the act of the child is willful or malicious, the $25,000 cap applies. The plaintiff may also seek for costs and attorney's fees.


The laws impose liability on parents when a child maliciously or willfully destroys or damages private or public property. The parent or an adult is also liable if they allow a minor under 16 years of age to drive. The adult who allowed the minor to drive will be jointly and severally liable for damages resulting from the minor's negligence. The dollar limit on parent's liability under these acts is $2,500.


The dollar limit on parents' liability for property damage, theft, and other tortious conduct is $5,000. The parents' liability for damages to school properties is $20,000 plus court costs. The maximum recovery for retail theft depends on the value of the property plus actual and exemplary damages. Meanwhile, the auto liability has no dollar limit.

Age of Majority

States may have various approaches and rules regarding the age of majority. This age affects when a parent can be held responsible for their child's actions. In most states, the age of majority is 18 years of age and above. However, some states have different rules. For instance, in Alabama and Nebraska, the age of majority is 19 years of age. In Mississippi, the age of majority is 21 years old.

Insurance Coverage and Parental Liability

One area that often mingles with parental liability is insurance coverage. Understanding insurance policies and how they affect their liabilities is essential. Homeowner policies might provide a certain level of coverage for damages caused by their child, whether accidental or willful acts. However, note that insurance coverage may also have limits.

Learn More About Your State's Parental Liability Laws

Parenting comes with significant responsibilities. It also has varying legal implications depending on your state laws. Such laws will dictate the parental liabilities for your child's criminal acts. If you or your child have some legal concerns, it is recommended that you consult a family law attorney. They can give you more clarity on parental liability laws and others. It will help ensure peace of mind and understand your rights.

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Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • Parental liability laws are different in every state
  • Liability cases are complex and a skilled attorney is essential
  • Establishing or terminating parental rights will involve a court process

An attorney can help protect your rights after your child’s negligent or criminal acts. Many attorneys offer free consultations.

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Don't Forget About Estate Planning

If you are in the midst of a parental rights or liability case, it may be an ideal time to create or change your estate planning forms. Take the time to add new beneficiaries to your will and name a guardian for any minor children. Consider creating a financial power of attorney so your agent can pay bills and make sure your children are provided for. A health care directive explains your health care decisions and takes the decision-making burden off your children when they become adults.

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