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Parental Liability for the Acts of Their Children

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If My Child Injured Someone, Can I Be Liable?

The answer to this question depends on your state's laws, the nature of the injury, and several other factors. Although parents were not traditionally held liable for their children’s actions, today many states uphold statues that prove for direct as well as indirect parental liability.

For example, many states require parents to be financially responsible for the damage caused by their children. So, if your child destroys someone else’s property, you may have to pay for it.

Vicariously for Your Child’s Actions

Here are some situations when parents may be vicariously liable for their minor children’s conduct:

  • Agency Theory – If a child commits a wrongful act while following directions from his parent, then the parent may be vicariously liable.
  • Family Car Doctrine – A parent who owns a vehicle will be vicariously liable for his child’s wrongful conduct when the child drives under the parent’s express or implied consent.
  • Permissive Use Doctrine – In some states, an automobile owner is vicariously liable for anyone’s tortuous conduct when the car is driven with the owner’s consent. Under this theory, an owner-parent may be liable for his minor child’s wrongful driving.

Direct Liability for Your Child’s Actions

Parents have a duty to control their minor children. Parents may be directly liable for breaching their duties to supervise and control their child. Additionally, parents may be directly liable for the actions of their child under the theory of negligent entrustment. In other words, if a parent entrusts a child with an instrument that could reasonably cause a risk of harm to others, then the parent will be liable for any harm that results.

Are There Limitations to These Laws?

Most states place limits on the amount of money a parent would have to pay in damages. For example, Iowa limits the amount to $2,000 per act. In addition to monetary limits, these laws usually have a minimum age cap. If a child is too young (usually eight years old and younger), a parent will not be deemed liable.

Parents will no longer be responsible for their child’s actions when the child is emancipated. A child is emancipated when he or she is seen as an adult in the eyes of the law—for example, when he or she gets married or joins the military. A court must declare that the child is emancipated.

Do These Laws Apply to Anyone Else?

Yes, these laws usually apply to anyone who has custody and control over a child. This can include grandparents, aunts and uncles, step-parents, and even non-relatives under some circumstances.

A third-part becomes a child’s custodian when:

  • Parents entrust their child to the third party
  • The third party agrees to supervise the child, and
  • The third party is physically present with the child

What About Criminal Responsibility?

In some states, parents may be criminally liable for their failure to exercise due care over the conduct of their children. For example, in California it is a misdemeanor for a parent to fail to exercise reasonable care over his or her child. If convicted, you could face up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

The laws surrounding parental responsibility for the acts of their children are still developing and vary from state to state. An experienced personal injury lawyer can help you understand your rights. If criminal charges are brought against you for the acts of you child, contact a criminal defense lawyer immediately.

Photo of page author Pavel Leshchinskiy

, LegalMatch Legal Content Developer

Last Modified: 11-23-2015 09:56 AM PST

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