Parental Responsibility for Children’s Actions in Texas

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 What Is Parental Responsibility?

Parental responsibility laws are laws that hold parents of minor children responsible for their minors’ actions. In Texas, the law only holds parents responsible for property damages in certain circumstances.

When a minor child causes property damage or personal injury to another, the juvenile justice system approaches the case differently than when an adult is involved. In many cases, the courts assign responsibility to the child’s parents. Many parents are unaware that the courts can hold them legally responsible for the actions and behavior of their minor children. A parental responsibility law has been enacted in almost every state. Texas is no different.

Texas Family Code Chapter 41

The details of Texas’ parental responsibility laws are in Texas Family Code section 41.001. Parental liability for the conduct of a child is discussed in Chapter 41, but only with respect to property damage, not personal injury. Texas’ parental responsibility laws do not address personal injury. A parent or “any other individual who has the duty of control and reasonable discipline” of a minor may be held responsible – meaning a legal guardian may also be held accountable.

A parent can be held liable for property damage a child causes in the following situations:

  1. The courts can reasonably attribute a child’s negligent conduct to a negligent failure on the part of a parent or guardian.
  2. The child is between the ages of 10 and 18 and committed the act willfully and maliciously.

According to the Family Code, a child’s willful and malicious conduct entails a limit on damages available for recovery. There is a cap of $25,000 on actual damages, plus attorney’s fees and court costs. The $25,000 cap or actual damage cap is per occurrence, so two acts of property damage may each have a cap of $25,000. For example, if a child willfully and maliciously damages property in two different rooms of a hotel, the damage limits will apply to each room separately.

The Texas Family Code does not cover property damage caused by accidental actions or behaviors. A child’s parents will not be held liable for the accident. When a defendant brings a claim against a minor child for property damage, they must prove that the damage was caused by the child’s negligence or malicious intent, not simply an accident.

Who Is Potentially Liable Under Texas law?

Texas Family Code section 41.001 imposes potential liability on “a parent or other person who has the duty of control and reasonable discipline of a child.” In some cases, this could extend to a legal guardian.

Under Texas law, When Does Liability Arise?

Parents are only liable for property damage under Section 41.001. The statute does not cover injuries or other kinds of harm caused by a child.

In the first part of the statute, a parent is liable if a child’s negligent conduct causes property damage, and that damage is reasonably attributable to the parent’s negligent failure to exercise “due control and reasonable discipline” over the child. In this section of the statute, a parent is liable regardless of the age of the child, so long as the child is under the age of 18.

Note that in the second part of the statute, a parent is responsible “if a child’s willful and malicious conduct causes damage to property.” This statute limits the parent’s liability to $25,000 in “actual damages, plus the other party’s court costs and reasonable attorney’s fees.” Note that this second part requires the child to act with some level of purpose or intent – in other words, it does not apply to accidents. Additionally, this part of the statute does not apply to all children but only to those who are at least ten years old but under the age of 18.

In What Circumstances Will a Parent be Held Responsible?

Parental responsibility laws only apply where minors are between 10 and 18 years of age, except where the children are emancipated or married. The parents or guardians are only responsible for property damage if they fail to control or discipline the child. In addition, the amount of liability is capped at $25,000 plus attorney fees for the injured party.

So, if parents make a good faith effort to supervise or prevent their children from acting poorly, they will be relinquished from liability under Texas civil law.

If I Am Not Liable Under Texas Civil Law, Will I be Free from Responsibility?

Sadly, no. Even if Texas civil law lets the parents off the hook from liability, the parents may still be liable under common law. The parents knew of their children’s recklessness and carelessness but did nothing to prevent the injuries.

Parental Liability May Go Beyond the Texas Statute

In Texas, parents shouldn’t assume they are immune from civil liability if the statutes do not cover their child’s actions. This is not the case. A parent could be held liable for injuries caused by their child’s careless or intentional actions under traditional “common law” principles of liability. In Texas, a parent who knows their child is likely to engage in reckless or careless behavior may have a legal duty to take reasonable steps to prevent the child from harming others.

The Texas Family Code is not the end-all and be-all of parental responsibility for a minor child’s behavior. The statutes in Chapter 41 do not cover every possible child behavior and action the courts may assign to a parent. In certain circumstances, parents may be held liable under common law principles. An injured party can sue a parent for damages caused by a child on the grounds of parental negligence.

A homeowner with a smashed window may be able to sue the parents if they knew or should have known of the child’s propensity to throw baseballs through windows. This lawsuit would be based on the failure to prevent foreseeable harm. Typically, these cases arise when a child with a violent tendency causes serious personal injuries to another person.

It may be possible to sue a minor’s parents for negligence or breach of duty if he or she can prove that the parents knew of the child’s propensity for the harmful behavior before it happened and they failed to intervene. In this case, the parents have a “duty of care” to the defendant to prevent the child from causing foreseeable harm, such as joyriding and crashing into a neighbor’s car. Parents may have breached this duty by failing to prevent their teens from doing so, resulting in damages.

Do I Need a Personal Injury Lawyer?

If you are being faced with parental liability, please contact an experienced personal injury lawyer in Texas. The lawyer will help you eliminate your liability or, at the very least, reduce it. The laws surrounding parental liability are complex. There are many situations in which a parent may become liable for the acts of a minor.

The best thing to do to protect yourself is to hire a Texas lawyer. Your lawyer can explain the applicable law and walk you through the process. A lawyer can also represent you in any court proceedings, if necessary. Use LegalMatch to find the right Texas lawyer for your needs.

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