Parents may be liable for the negligent or criminal acts of their children, beginning when children are eight to ten and ending at the age of majority. This means parents can be subject to lawsuits or criminal sanctions if their children commit crimes or cause injuries or property damage to a third party.
This section covers the basics of parental liability, including criminal and civil liability and the implications of parental liability on insurance coverage. Also included is a summary of parental liability laws in select states.
Civil Parental Liability
In all 50 states, parents are responsible for all malicious or willful property damage done by their children. This is called civil parental liability because it's non-criminal. The parent is obligated only to financially compensate the party harmed by his or her child's actions.
Parental civil liability is intended to compensate victims of torts and to encourage parental control and supervision. Parental civil liability generally begins when the minor is between eight and ten years old and ends at the age of majority, which is between 18 and 21, depending on state law.
Laws regarding the monetary limits on damages that can be collected, the age limits of the child, and the inclusion of personal injury in the tort claim vary by state. Hawaii's parental liability law remains one of the most broadly applied, as it doesn't limit the financial recovery, and it imposes liability for both negligent and intentional torts by the minor child.
Criminal Parental Liability
Laws making parents criminally responsible for the delinquent acts of their children followed the civil liability statutes. In 1903, Colorado was the first state to enact a law against "contributing to the delinquency of a minor."
Most states and the District of Columbia now have laws against contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Although these laws vary from state to state, parents who are found grossly neglectful from the normal standards of parental supervision and control can generally be jailed, fined, and ordered by the court to pay restitution to the person the child victimized.
Other examples of criminal liability include firearm access and Internet crime-related laws. A number of states and the District of Columbia also have child firearm access prevention laws that, usually, make it illegal for a parent to leave a firearm within reach of his or her child. In some Internet access and computer hacking law cases, parents have been civilly responsible for their child's online crimes.
How a Family Law Attorney Can Help You
Sometimes, the skills of an experienced family law attorney is worth the cost of their representation. You may need a family lawyer to help you navigate the complex legal rules involved in your particular parental liability lawsuit. These are civil statutes that can be used to hold a parent or guardian financially responsible when a minor child commits certain acts, and the specific type of conduct that will trigger parental liability vary on a state-by-state basis, as does the extent of a parent's financial exposure. Seek the advice of a qualified family law attorney in your area today.