Hawaii has implemented parental responsibility laws, as have most other states in the U.S. These laws make parents financially responsible for the legal liability of their minor children. State law in Hawaii only holds parents liable for damages caused by their minor children in connection with the following:
- As a result of tortious conduct;
- Injury and damage caused by operation of motor vehicles;
- Damage to property.
Parents are only liable for harm done by their children who are under the age of majority, i.e., 18.
How Are Parents Liable for General Torts?
Parents are jointly and severally liable for any torts that their children commit. In a legal term, joint and several liabilities mean that two or more parties share legal responsibility for a lawsuit. A wronged party may sue any or all of them and collect the total damages awarded by a court from any or all of them.
Hawaii law makes parents and legal guardians “strictly liable” for the damage their minor child causes in any accident. This would include car accidents, slip and fall incidents, and other common accidental events. In this context, “strict liability” means that a victim would not have to prove that the parents were negligent concerning their children. The fact that the child engaged in behavior that caused damage and is therefore liable would also establish the parent’s liability.
In legal terminology, the word “torts” mean actions that injure other people or harm their property. Torts can be either intentional or negligent. In other words, if a court finds that a person who committed a tort knew their behavior would cause harm, the court may conclude that the person intended to commit a tort. The tort is intentional.
If the person did not know the action would cause harm but failed to fulfill their duty of care, the court may determine the action constitutes the tort of negligence.
Parents are also liable for the intentional acts of their children that cause harm and not just their children’s negligent acts.
More information about the two kinds of torts is as follows:
- Intentional Torts: To succeed with a claim that another person committed an intentional tort that caused them harm, the victim would have to show either that the other person intended to harm them or reasonably should have known. For example, if someone slanders a person, the slandered person must show that the slanderer intended to harm them or at least had the intent to commit an act that a reasonable person would know would likely cause harm. The common intentional torts are:
- Damage to personal property;
- Conversion of personal property. In criminal law, this is known as “theft”;
- Intentional infliction of emotional distress.
- Trespass on real property;
- The Tort of Negligence: The tort of negligence does not require an intent to harm. A victim of negligence must prove four things in court:
- A person owed them a duty of care;
- The person breached the duty,
- The beach caused the victim injury or damage, and
- The damage resulted in economic loss.
Generally speaking, when one person acts carelessly or recklessly and causes injury to another person, under the legal theory of negligence, the careless person is legally liable to compensate the victim for the resulting harm.
Damages for tortious conduct are generally awarded to restore the victim to the position the victim was in had the tort not occurred. In law, monetary damages are paid to the victim by the offender to compensate them for the economic loss they suffered because they were injured or harmed. Cases where the person who harmed the victim, whether intentionally or negligently, by engaging in shockingly bad conduct may be assessed punitive damages.
How Are Parents Liable for Driving Damages?
In Hawaii, parents can be liable for damage caused by their minor child while operating a motor vehicle in any of the following ways:
- Both the father and the mother can be liable if both have custody;
- The custodial parent is liable if only one parent has custody;
- The custodial guardian is liable if neither parent has custody, or
- The minor’s employer or another responsible person would be willing to assume responsibility if neither a parent nor guardian has custody.
Any negligence or misconduct by the minor while operating a motor vehicle is attributed to the person who signed the minor’s application for a driving permit or a driver’s license. The person who has signed an application becomes jointly and severally liable with the minor child for any damages caused by the minor’s misconduct behind the wheel.
Again, Hawaii law in this area is quite comprehensive and can have serious financial consequences for parents, guardians, or even employers when a minor child causes a serious car accident.
How Are Parents Liable for Property Damages?
In the property damage provisions of Hawaii state law, property damage includes any graffiti sprayed onto buildings or housing or any other unauthorized drawing, inscription, figure, or marking, whether created by paint, ink, chalk, dye, or any other similar substance.
If a minor child creates graffiti, the child must remove it within 60 days or pay for the cost of removal. Also, the minor child must perform 80 hours of community service. Parents are liable when the child cannot afford to pay the graffiti’s removal cost.
But liability for property damage is not limited to liability for graffiti.
Am I Liable Under Common Law?
If a parent or guardian is not liable under Hawaii state statutory law, then they may still be liable under common law. The liability of parents in common law would arise where the parents are negligent. Generally, if a parent knows or should know that their child has a propensity to cause harm or is about to cause harm, and the parent does not do anything to prevent it, then the parent may be liable.
This is because parents have a duty of care that includes a duty to supervise and control their children. So, if they failed to fulfill this duty of care and the minor child causes harm, the parents are liable for the damage caused by their children’s action. So, for example, if a parent were to entrust a motor vehicle to a child to operate when the child is clearly too young to handle the vehicle properly and safely, the parent could be liable for negligence on their own part.
Contacting an Attorney for Help with Parental Responsibility Laws
If your minor child’s actions have caused harm to another person, either personal injury or property damage, you should consult a personal injury lawyer in Hawaii.
Your lawyer can analyze the situation and tell you whether you may be legally liable for any injury or damage. Your lawyer knows why you would be liable under a Hawaii law regarding parental responsibility or some other legal theory. Then your lawyer will be able to tell you how best you can defend any claim from the injured person for damages.
An experienced attorney can also keep you updated with changes in the law that could possibly affect your claim.