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Can Parents Be Sued If Their Child Is a Bully?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on March 09, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Stories of bullying in the school yard are in the news all too often. Just last month, a 12-year old boy with Asperger's syndrome was beaten so severely, he had to be hospitalized with a jawline fracture, fractured skull, and ear damage.

Often, victims' parents sue the school districts that failed to protect their students or the actual bullies. However, can parents of the bullies also be sued?

Parental Liability

In many states, parents can be held civilly liable for their minor children's actions. Parental liability laws don't require parents to prevent every harmful action that their child may do. However, if parents know that their child may cause harm to another person, parents do have a duty to control and prevents those actions.

For example, California's Civil Code Section 1714.1 states, "Any act of willful misconduct of a minor that results in injury or death to another person, or in any injury to the property of another, shall be imputed to the parent or guardian having custody and control of the minor for all purposes of civil damages." This statute only covers damages caused by "willful misconduct" -- acts the child intended to commit -- and not damage caused by the child's negligence or accident. California limits compensation under this code section to $25,000.

Parental Liability Varies by State

While many states have similar parental liability laws, the actions that parents are liable for, and caps on damages, can vary wildly from state to state. A few examples include:

  • Hawaii -- Hawaii extends parental liability to their children's negligent actions as well as intentional actions, and does not cap the damages parents must pay.
  • Indiana -- Under Indiana law, parents are liable for all actual damages arising from their child's gang activities if the parents actively encourages or knowingly benefits from the child's gang membership.
  • Tennessee -- In Tennessee, parents can be liable for up to $10,000 of their child's actual damages. However, if the parents knew, or should have known, of the child's tendency to harm others or property, and failed to control the child, then the $10,000 limit does not apply.
  • Maine -- In Maine, parental liability for a child's acts is limited to just $800.

If your child has been bullied and you're thinking about suing his or her parents, an experienced injury lawyer can assess the strength of your case and help you figure out the best way to proceed.

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