Parental Responsibility Laws in Florida

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 What are Parental Responsibility Laws?

Parental responsibility laws are the laws which hold parents legally responsible for violations that are committed by their children. This may mean that a parent can be held financially liable for property damage or other losses which are caused by their child.

The age of majority is 18 years of age in most states. However, this may range from 19-21 years of age in some states.

Parental liability is similar to the legal concept of vicarious liability. Vicarious liability is a legal concept where an employer is responsible for negligent or harmful acts committed by their employees during the course of their employment.

The laws which govern parental liability for the acts of children may vary by state. In addition, certain jurisdictions may limit the amount of liability for parents.

What Types of Acts do Parental Responsibility Laws Cover?

Parental responsibility laws govern any civil violation which is committed by a minor, which may include:

  • Injury torts;
  • Property damage; or
  • Theft.

The majority of statutes that govern parental liability directly address property damage. Common situations when a parent may be held liable for a civil violation that is committed by their child may include:

  • Defacement or destruction of government property, especially a monument;
  • Vandalism to school property; and
  • Destruction of property that is motivated by a hate crime, for example, defacing a:
    • church;
    • synagogue; or
    • temple.

What Types of Legal Theories are Involved with Parental Liability claims?

The majority of parental liability laws are based upon statutes which define the parent’s liability. The legal theories are often based on common law principles, including:

  • Vicarious liability: Parental responsibility or liability for a personal injury violation or civil violation may be based on liability principles similar to those between an employer and employee, as noted above;
  • Parental negligence or negligent supervision: A parent may become liable for the child’s acts if the parent knows that the child needs to be controlled, but fails to take reasonable precautions to control them;
    • This may also apply to other adults who have authority over the child, such as grandparents or legal guardians; and
  • Family car doctrine: About half of the states in the United States enforce this doctrine. This doctrine holds the owner of a vehicle liable for damage caused by another family member while driving, including a minor;
    • In order to be held liable, the owner of the vehicle must consent to the other individual’s use. The family car doctrine typically applies regardless of whether the minor was included in a family insurance policy.

Parental liability may also be based upon a combination of these legal theories.

What are the Consequences for the Parent?

Depending upon the act which is committed by the minor child, a parent may face legal consequences. In most cases, the consequences include requiring a parent to pay a damages award to the plaintiff to reimburse them for the economic losses which the child caused.

These damages may cover:

  • Hospital expenses;
  • Medical treatment; and
  • Property damage costs.

In numerous jurisdictions, a parent may also be required to reimburse the state for any losses which were caused in connection with the juvenile violation. For example, a parent may be required to pay the cost of the court fees associated with the violation.

In many cases, the parent and the child can also face separate criminal charges.

What is Juvenile Crime?

A juvenile crime is a crime that is committed by an individual who is under the age of majority, typically 18. In many states, the minimum age an individual may be considered to have committed a juvenile crime is 16 or 17 years old.

The majority of states consider a child who is age 14 or older capable of intentionally committing a criminal offense. Each state, however, has its own unique laws which apply to crimes that are committed by juveniles.

Juvenile crime laws often provide for a lighter sentence for the offender. Children who are 7 years of age and younger are, in general, deemed incapable of committing a crime because of the fact that they are considered to be too young to fully comprehend the difference between right and wrong.

Young children, however, may still be held liable for committing the offense of homicide. Courts may try juvenile offenders in the adult criminal system if the crime was particularly egregious or if the juvenile is a repeat offender.

For example, if a juvenile is tried as an adult for offenses such as:

  • Rape;
  • Homicide; or
  • Repeated theft.

It is important to note that the juvenile court system is distinct from the adult criminal system. Because of this, they are separate rules and laws for both systems.

The juvenile court system is civil and not criminal. A juvenile offender is typically accused of committing a delinquent act as opposed to being formally charged.

In addition, a court may choose the punishment which is best suited to the circumstances as opposed to being bound to a state statute for a specific crime, which may include:

  • A lecture;
  • Confinement in a juvenile detention facility;
  • Mandatory schooling;
  • Community service;
  • Probation or parole;
  • Significant fines; and
  • A record of the incident being included in the child’s criminal record.

When the parent of a child is held responsible for their child’s crimes, the punishment may include:

  • Payment of fines and court fees;
  • Payment of the costs which are associated with the child’s:
    • detention;
    • treatment; and
    • supervision;
  • Restitution payments made to the victims;
  • The parent participating in community service with their child; and
  • Jail time.

As the laws governing parental responsibility and accountability vary by state, it is important for an individual to review their state’s laws to determine how comprehensive they are or to consult with an attorney.

Are Parents in Florida Liable for the Actions of Their Children?

Yes, Florida imposes parental responsibility laws. This means that a parent is liable for the damages or injuries caused by their children.

What Does Florida’s Parental Responsibility Law Cover?

Florida’s parental responsibility laws hold parents responsible for damage which their children caused by driving and vandalism. Pursuant to Florida state laws, a parent is jointly and severally liable for any property damages which was caused by the child’s driving.

This duty arises from the driving application of the child. In order for a minor child to obtain a permit, their parent or guardian is required to sign the application and to provide proof of their identity.

By taking these steps, a parent agrees to be financially responsible for any intentional or negligent driving acts of the child. The State of Florida also holds parents financially responsible for any acts of vandalism which their children commit.

Vandalism is a willful or malicious act engaged in to destroy or steal real or personal property.

Is My Parental Responsibility Limited to Driving and Vandalism?

No, parental responsibility is not limited to driving and vandalism. Although Florida state law limits liability, a parent may also be held liable under common law.

Therefore, if a parent is aware or should have been aware of their child’s propensity to commit a tortious act and they do not take any steps to prevent it, the parent may also be held liable. For example, if a parent was aware of their child’s plans to egg their neighbor’s home on Halloween and the parent allows their child to leave their house with eggs, the parent will be held financially responsible for the cleanup costs related to the egging of the neighbor’s home.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

If you have any issues, questions, or concerns related to parental responsibility in Florida, it may be helpful to consult with a Florida personal injury lawyer. Your lawyer can advise you of your potential liability and may be able to reduce or eliminate your liability for the damages which your child caused.

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