Parental responsibility laws hold a parent legally responsible for violations that were committed by their children, such as being held financially liable for property damage or other losses caused by their child. In most states, the age of majority is 18 years old, meaning that anyone under that age is considered to be a child for legal purposes. However, some states have extended the age of majority to 21 years old.
Parental liability is similar to the concept of vicarious liability, in which an employer is responsible for negligent or harmful acts committed by their employees. The laws governing parental liability for the acts of children differ from state to state, and some jurisdictions may limit the amount of liability for parents. The intention behind such laws is that parents have a legal duty to supervise and prevent their children from committing crimes, and becoming delinquent citizens.
Parental responsibility laws cover civil violations committed by a minor, most commonly personal injury torts, property damage, and thefts. As such, most state statutes addressing parental liability directly address property damage.
Some of the most common examples of when parent may be held liable for civil violations committed by their child include:
- Defacement or destruction of government property, especially monuments;
- Vandalism to school property; and
- Destruction of property that is motivated by a hate crime, such as defacing a church, synagogue, or temple.
Most parental liability laws are based on statutes that define the parent’s liability, which are also based on case law principles such as:
- Parental Negligence or Negligent Supervision: A parent may become liable for their child’s acts if the parent fails to take reasonable precautions to prevent them from committing a crime. Negligent supervision generally involves failure to restrict access to dangerous items such as firearms, and will be further discussed below; and
- The Family Car Doctrine: Nearly half of U.S. states enforce this doctrine, which holds the owner of a car liable for damage caused by another family member while driving. In order to be held liable, the owner of the car must consent to the other person’s use. The family car doctrine generally applies regardless of whether the minor was included in a family insurance policy.
What Are Negligent Supervision Laws?
As was previously mentioned, negligent supervision laws govern the liability of adults who have failed to exercise their duty of care when monitoring children. A person may become liable for negligent supervision if:
- They know, or have reason to know that the child must be controlled or protected; and
- They have failed to do so.
While each state may have different laws when covering negligent supervision, most states will impose liability on an adult if the elements listed above have been met. Supervision duties are sometimes determined through a formal contract, such as when a daycare requires a parent to sign a liability form.
Liability is more likely to be imposed if the adult knew of a danger or threat to the child, but failed to take action in order to eliminate the danger. Some common examples of negligent supervision include:
- Failing to secure dangerous items, such as guns or toxic chemicals;
- Failing to keep the child safe from hazards in their environment such as heavy traffic, swimming pools, dangerous machinery, open windows, etc.;
- Allowing the child to use facilities or equipment that they are not allowed to use; and
- Failing to protect the child from physical or emotional abuse from another child, when the abuse could have been prevented.
To reiterate, negligent supervision can sometimes result if the adult allows the child to engage in illegal acts. Some of the most common examples would be when the adult knowingly permits the minor to vandalize property, or allows them to drive a car without a license.
While the legal concept of negligent supervision generally applies to relationships between a parent and their biological child, any person who is legally entrusted with the care of a minor can be subject to negligent supervision laws. This includes:
- Legal guardians;
- Relatives such as grandparents;
- Day care providers;
- School officials; and
- Community group leaders.
Are There Any Legal Consequences For Negligent Supervision?
Violations of negligent supervision laws can result in legal consequences for the adult who is found guilty. They may be required to pay for damages if someone was injured, or they may have to pay for property damage if they allowed the child to commit vandalism. Parental responsibility for juvenile crime is enforced in many states, which results in the parent facing criminal consequences, even if they did not commit the crime themselves.
Finally, negligent supervision can expose the adult caretaker to a private civil lawsuit. An example of this would be when a parent sues a daycare provider for damages. These cases are generally tried under parental responsibility laws. As such, it is important for a person to fully understand their duties if they will be caring for a minor.
What Else Should I Know About Juvenile Crime In General?
Juvenile crimes are crimes that are committed by people under the age of eighteen. Most states consider a child who is aged fourteen or older to be capable of intentionally committing a crime. However, each state has its own set of laws governing crimes committed by juveniles, which generally provide a lighter sentence for the offender.
Children aged seven and younger are generally considered to be incapable of committing a crime, due to the fact that they are considered to be too young to fully understand the difference between right and wrong. However, young children may still be held liable for committing the crime of homicide. Additionally, a court may try a juvenile offender in the adult criminal system if the crime was particularly egregious, or if the juvenile is a repeat offender. An example of this would be a juvenile being tried as an adult for rape, homicide, or repeated theft.
The juvenile court system differs from the adult criminal system; as such, there are different rules and laws for both systems. The juvenile court system is civil, rather than criminal. Juvenile offenders are accused of committing a delinquent act, as opposed to being formally charged. Additionally, the court may choose a punishment that is best suited to the circumstances, as opposed to being bound to a state statute for a specific crime.
Negligent supervision and parental responsibility laws are intended to decrease the juvenile crime rate, such as the following crimes:
- Internet Access, Hacking, and Other Computer Crimes: Computer crimes occur when a computer is used to facilitate traditional crimes, as well as illegal activity such as fraud, revenge porn, and white collar crimes. It may also refer to when an offender targets their victim’s computer systems to copy, interrupt, destroy, or alter those systems. Parents may be held liable if their child commits any such crimes, with violations including sexting and child pornography distributed electronically;
- Firearm Access: If a child used a firearm when committing their crime, their parent may be held responsible if they owned or controlled the firearm that was used. However, the parent may not be held liable if the firearm was obtained elsewhere;
- Car Accidents: Parents may be held responsible if their child causes an accident using their vehicle, and that accident results in injuries. The car used in the accident must belong to the parent of the child in order for the parent to be held responsible; and
- Property Damage: If any property damage results from an intentional act that the child committed, their parents may be held responsible for that damage.
Do I Need A Lawyer For Help With Negligent Supervision Laws?
Negligent supervision laws are enforced strictly, because they involve the safety and well-being of minors. If you are facing a situation involving negligent supervision, you should hire a criminal defense lawyer for representation in court.
If you believe that your child suffered losses due to the negligence of another party, a personal injury lawyer can help you file a lawsuit with the appropriate court. In either case, an experienced attorney can help you understand your legal rights and options under your state’s specific laws, and will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.