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Can Children Be Sued?

By Brett Snider, Esq. on August 07, 2013 8:30 AM

While it might not be a great motivator for children to behave, children can potentially be sued for their actions. But it's usually the minor's parents who foot the bill.

The law offers some legal rights and protection to minor children who are sued, but for the most part, they can still be held liable for their legal misdeeds.

Is My Child Liable?

The law, and most juvenile courts, follow some guidelines for children:

  • If your child is under four years of age, almost all courts acknowledge no liability for that child's negligent acts. They are still mostly under parental responsibility. 
  • If your child is between the ages of four and 14, there is a strong presumption that children are incapable of contributory negligence. This presumption can be overcome, however. An injured person needs to present evidence showing that a "reasonable child" would have understood the situation and the danger involved. This is based on a standard of other children the same age and with similar intelligence and experience.
  • Some courts apply a "reasonable adult" standard for children if they're engaged in certain "adult" activities like riding a snowmobile.
  • The age of majority, also called the legal age, is typically 18 under most state laws. Some 17-year-olds can be tried as adults.
  • Emancipated minors (minors who have a court order freeing them from parental control) can be sued. They must handle their own financial affairs if they lose the case.

There might be some cases where your young child intentionally injures someone. If a jury determines they were old enough to have the intent to commit that harm, then your child can be sued.

Does My Child Need a Lawyer?

Under common law principles, parents generally weren't responsible for third parties being injured by their kids. This is why the injured parties had to sue the child directly. 

However, many states have enacted laws to hold parents vicariously liable for their children's torts, which are actions that cause harm or injury to another. Most state laws also cap parental liability at a specific dollar amount.

Minors cannot represent themselves in court, so they need a lawyer. It is in the best interests of the minor to have attorney representation, so the court will provide a guardian ad litem attorney to represent the child.

This guardian can also help your child countersue (since minors cannot file suit on their own) and can sign court documents on behalf of the child.

Parents always have the option to hire a lawyer for their child -- or for the family -- if the suit involves the parents as well.

Can the Whole Family Be Sued?

When a child injures a person, that injured party can sue both the child and the parent in court to recover damages. Let's say a child drives a car illegally and causes a car accident.

The child's parents can be sued under a theory of negligent supervision. The child may also be sued under negligence or an intentional tort. This depends on how their actions contributed to the crash or injuries.

Suing a Minor -- and Winning

A guilty verdict for both parents and child could mean the whole family is legally obligated to compensate the injured person. They will be expected to pay for the injured person's medical treatment and may need to replace the motor vehicle. Although in reality, parents foot the bill for their children's suits anyway.

To learn more about injury lawsuits involving children and potential parental liability, you may want to consult an experienced personal injury lawyer near you.

Related Resources:

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