Children are frequently exempt from the legal system because they are too immature and young to understand the distinction between right and wrong.
Children can, nevertheless, be sued under specific circumstances. When a child injures someone, the injured party has the right to sue both the child and the parent to seek damages for their injuries.
Although the child gets sued for their behavior, the parents usually have to pay the damages. This is entirely dependent on the child’s age.
If the child is under the age of four, practically all courts in every state agree that the child is not liable for their negligent actions. A child under the age of four is too little to understand their own negligence.
If the youngster is between the ages of 4 and 14, it is widely assumed that they are incapable of being negligent. This notion can be overcome if the plaintiff can demonstrate that a reasonable child of the same age with comparable intelligence and experience would have recognized that their conduct was improper and would have recognized the risk involved. Even though the child is too young to bear some legal responsibility, they may be subjected to a lower legal standard.
What Are “Parental Responsibility Laws?”
Parental responsibility laws hold a parent legally responsible for their children’s behavior. This could imply that the parent would be held financially liable for property damage or other losses caused by their child. In most states, the age of majority is 18, though it can range from 19 to 21 years old in some areas.
Parental liability is analogous to vicarious liability in that an employer is liable for negligent or harmful activities committed by their employees. The rules regarding parental culpability for their children’s actions may change from state to state, and certain jurisdictions may limit the level of liability for parents.
Can I Be Held Liable if My Child Injures Someone?
The answer to this question depends on your state’s laws about the liability of parents for a child’s actions, the nature of the injury, and several other factors. Although parents were not traditionally held liable for their children’s acts, several states now have statutes establishing direct and indirect parental liability.
Many states, for example, require parents to be financially accountable for any damage caused by their children. So, if your child destroys someone else’s property, you may be held liable.
Parents will no longer be liable for their child’s actions when they are emancipated. A child is emancipated when seen as an adult in the eyes of the law—for example, when they get married or join the military. A court must state that the child is emancipated.
Can Parents Be Sued For a Child’s Actions?
Depending on the state, parents may be held accountable for their juvenile child’s misdeeds.
Some states have Parental Accountability or Parental Responsibility Laws that make parents liable for their child’s offenses. The logic behind such regulations is that parents have a legal obligation to oversee and prevent their children from becoming delinquent citizens.
Another reason for such rules is to reduce the rate of adolescent crime. Examples of frequent offenses that these accountability or responsibility laws may encompass include, but are not limited to:
- Internet access, hacking, and other computer crimes: This is a newer field of law due to technical improvements. When a computer is used to facilitate traditional crimes and illegal activities such as fraud, revenge porn, and white-collar crimes; or when an offender targets their victim’s computer systems to copy, interrupt, destroy, or alter those systems, computer crimes occur. If their child commits any of these offenses, parents may be held accountable, with instances of violations including sexting and child pornography sent electronically, resulting in severe legal consequences.
- Firearms: If a youngster uses a firearm while committing a crime, their parents may be liable if they own or control the handgun. The parent may not be held accountable if the firearm was obtained elsewhere. In general, the parent must have owned or controlled the handgun in question.
- Car Accidents: Parents may be held liable if their child causes an accident in their vehicle, resulting in injury. Again, the car involved in the accident must be owned by the child’s parent in order for the parent to be held liable; and
- Property Damage: If a child causes property damage by intentional conduct, their parents may be held liable for the damage.
As previously stated, juvenile courts are civil rather than criminal. Furthermore, the courts may impose a sentence that they believe is most appropriate for the child.
Such penalties could include:
- A lecture;
- Confinement in a juvenile correctional institution;
- Compulsory schooling;
- Community service;
- Probation or parole;
- Substantial fines; and/or
- The incident will be recorded on the child’s criminal record.
What Legal Remedies Are Available?
When a parent is held accountable for their child’s crimes, sanctions may include:
- Payment of fines and court fees;
- Payment of costs related to the child’s imprisonment, therapy, and supervision;
- Payment of restitution to victims;
- Participation in community service with their child; and/or
- Time in jail
Again, different states’ laws govern parental responsibility and accountability. It is critical to review your state’s legislation to discover how thorough they are.
What Legal Theories Are Associated With Parental Liability Claims?
The majority of parental liability laws are founded on statutes that specify a parent’s liability. Many legal systems are also founded on common law (case law) ideas, such as:
- Vicarious Liability: Parental responsibility or culpability for a personal injury violation or civil transgression may be predicated on liability standards similar to those that apply between an employer and an employee.
- Parental Negligence or Negligent Supervision: A parent may be held liable for their child’s actions if they are aware that the child requires restraint but fail to take reasonable precautions to manage them. Negligent supervision can also apply to other adults who manage the child, such as legal guardians, grandparents, close relatives, or others. Negligent care typically involves failing to restrict access to potentially dangerous things such as weapons.
- “Family Car Doctrine”: This doctrine, which makes the car owner accountable for damage committed by another family member while driving, is enforced in roughly half of the United States (including minors). To be held liable, the car owner must consent to the other person’s use. The family automobile theory normally applies whether or not a family insurance policy covers the minor.
A combination of these legal theories can also be used to establish parental liability. Consult with a lawyer if you require clarity on your state’s regulations.
Do These Laws Apply to Others?
Yes, these restrictions normally apply to anyone who has custody or control of a minor. Grandparents, aunts and uncles, stepparents, and even non-relatives may be included.
When a third party becomes a child’s custodian, it is because:
- Parents hand over their children to a third party.
- The third party has agreed to supervise the child and is physically present with the child.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
If your underage child has been charged with a crime, you must immediately contact an experienced and competent juvenile counsel. An experienced children’s lawyer can advise you on your state’s parental responsibility statutes as well as your child’s rights and defenses. In addition, an attorney can represent you in court and provide legal guidance about suing a minor.