Parental responsibility and liability means that parents are legally responsible for their children’s actions. Parents who are legally liable can face criminal charges or civil lawsuits.  Common acts committed by children that parents face liability for fall into two categories:

  • Torts
  • Illegal crimes

Usually, parental liability applies to minor children. Parental liability ends when the child reaches the age of majority, which is usually 18 years of age. For some states, the age of majority has been raised to 21 years of age for certain acts.

What Is Civil Parental Liability?

Parents may face civil lawsuits if their child commits malicious acts or property damage. Like an employer and employee relationship, parents may be held responsible for their children's actions even if they are not responsible for the injury. This is commonly referred to as vicarious liability.

Most civil lawsuits brought against parents for their child’s misbehavior are for financial damages. Common acts committed by minors in these cases are:

  • Vandalism to school or government property
  • Hate crimes that involve the destruction of property
  • Defacement of cemetery headstones, historical markers, or public monuments

Parents are usually held liable for these crimes because of two reasons:

  • Negligent Supervision- This assumes that the parents knew about the child’s behavior and did nothing to prevent the child’s actions. Negligent supervision applies to all adults that have custody of the child, such as grandparents or guardians.
  • The “Family Car” Doctrine- This doctrine holds the owner of the car liable for any damage done by a member of the family. The concept falls under the theory of negligent entrustment and is applied to about half of the states.

What Is Criminal Parental Liability?

Criminal parental liability is similar to civil parental liability, but covers serious acts that are in violation of criminal laws. Criminal parental liability is typically linked to:

  • Delinquency- Minors that fail to attend or skip school.
  • Internet and Computer Crimes- Minors that hack phone company lines or illegally download music or movies.
  • Firearm Access- Minors that gain access to firearms and use them to commit a crime.

Which States Have Parental Liability Laws?

Most states have some form of parental liability laws. Here are the states with more detailed laws:

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Massachusetts
  • Missouri
  • New York
  • Texas
  • Virginia
  • Wisconsin

Should I Get an Attorney If I Face Liability for My Child’s Actions?

Yes. A personal injury attorney can help you if your minor child committed a tort for which you may be held liable. Cases involving minors can be complex and have lasting effects. Your attorney can represent you in court and guide you through this process.