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Parent Liability: Selected State Laws

Anyone with experience raising children will tell you that kids have wills of their own and sometimes do things that get them, and their parents, into trouble. 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 committed by children.

A parent's liability is generally broken down into either civil or criminal liability. As an example of civil liability, many states require parents to pick up the tab for any damage done by their children to public or private property through vandalism. Parental criminal liability would cover situations when a parent can be charged with a crime based on their child's conduct. In some states, for example, parents can face criminal charges for allowing their child to gain access to a firearm in the home.

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

Select State Parent Liability Laws

Arizona: Parents are liable for intentional acts of their children that injure others or damage their property. Parents can be held automatically liable for up to $10,000 in damage. Although not automatic, under some circumstances, this legal responsibility may extend to the full value of the victim's damages.

California: Parents are responsible if the parent has knowledge of the child's potential for misconduct and fails to take reasonable steps to prevent such misconduct; if the parent has signed the child's driver's license application or the child drives the parent's car with the parent's knowledge and permission; if the child is guilty of willful misconduct; or if the child is given ready access to a firearm.

Colorado: The governor signed Senate Bill 253 in 2003, which validates certain parental liability waivers, signed for their minor children who engage is various sports or recreational activities.

Illinois: It is illegal for a person to store or leave any loaded firearm in a way that allows a minor to gain access to the firearm without permission from a parent or guardian and use it to injure or kill. A firearm is properly stored if it is secured by a trigger lock, placed in a securely locked box, or placed in some other location that a reasonable person would believe to be secured from a minor.

Indiana: If the juvenile is adjudicated a delinquent, the parents or custodians of the juvenile may be required to participate in programs of care, treatment, or rehabilitation for the juvenile and will be held financially responsible for any services provided. These costs may include the costs incurred by the County on behalf of the juvenile for attorneys, institutional or foster care placement, detention, inpatient/outpatient treatment, or counseling. It may also include the costs of returning the child from another jurisdiction and court costs associated with the juvenile proceedings. If the parent or guardian defaults in reimbursing the county or fails to pay any fee required, the Juvenile Court may find him/her in contempt and may 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 person or property caused by a child in their custody and may be fully liable for all actual damages resulting from gang activity.

Massachusetts: It is unlawful to store or keep any firearm, rifle, or shotgun including, but not limited to, large capacity weapons or machine guns in any place unless such weapon is secured in a locked container or equipped with a tamper-resistant mechanical lock or other safety device, properly engaged so as to render such weapon inoperable by any person other than the owner or other lawfully authorized user. Dealers must conspicuously post at each purchase counter the following warning in bold type not less than one inch in height: "It is unlawful to store or keep a handgun, rifle, shotgun or machine gun in any place unless that weapon is equipped with a tamper-resistant safety device or is stored or kept in a securely locked container." Each dealer must provide the warning, in writing, to the purchaser or transferee of any firearm, rifle, shotgun, or machine gun in bold type not less than one-quarter inch in height.

Missouri: Parents may be liable in an amount up to $2,000 under the parental liability statute. Parents may be liable for greater amounts if the court determines that the child's actions were a result of parental negligence. The child must act purposely before the parent is liable.

New York: Parents are liable when their children "willfully, maliciously, or unlawfully" damage property. There is a cap of $5,000 per incident. Damages may be mitigated by a limiting financial status of the parents, or by showing diligent supervision.

Texas: It is a misdemeanor offense when a child gains access to a firearm because an adult fails to secure a readily dischargeable firearm or left the firearm in a place to which the person knew or should have known that a child could gain access. It also requires firearms dealers to post a sign with this warning: "It is unlawful to store, transport, or abandon an unsecured firearm in a place where children are likely to be and can obtain access to the firearm."

Virginia: It is a misdemeanor to recklessly leave a loaded firearm so as to endanger the life or limb of any child under the age of fifteen.

Wisconsin: The Grandparents Liability Law holds grandparents (parents of minor children) financially responsible for the support of any grand-children born to their minor teen sons or daughters (under 18).

Learn More About Your State's Parental Liability Laws: Contact a Lawyer

As a parent you have a lot of responsibilities when it comes to raising your children and, depending on where you live, potential liabilities related to your children. If you're concerned about the misconduct of your children and want to understand the liability laws of your state, the best resource available to you is an experienced family law attorney.

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