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Date Modified: September 9, 2023

The answer is YES! Your children, by operation of the law, are seen effectively by the law as your property. Their actions will be imputed to you if repayment is demanded.

In the case of torts that they commit, some jurisdictions require that you be aware of and have constructive knowledge of your child’s propensity for performing that tort before you are held strictly liable for his or her actions. When you commit a wrongful act, the legal liability lies on you.

  • Video Transcript - Are Parents Liable For Children’s Actions?

    Video Transcript - Are Parents Liable For Children’s Actions?

    "0:00 can I be held liable for my children’s

    0:02 actions yes in certain situations you

    0:06 can be held responsible for your

    0:08 children’s actions however in California

    0:11 the law sometimes will cap the amount of

    0:15 damages you can be liable for because 0

    :17 it’s just simply unfair. [Music]"

Still, depending on the state’s legal system, you may face civil liability for your child’s wrongdoings if your child commits a wrongful act that harms an individual. Such laws vary from one state to the other, and it compensates the victim and also encourages parental supervision.

Ehline Law and our personal injury attorneys will briefly review parental responsibility laws to help you understand the concept better, ensuring all responsible parties are held liable.

Is a Parent Liable for Their Children’s Actions?

Depending on the state’s parental responsibility laws, injuries, and other factors, a parent may be responsible for their child’s actions. Previously, the laws considered children as independent actors, which meant the injured party could not hold parents responsible for the actions of their children.

Generally speaking, maybe, the other party was negligent in their actions, or maybe the other party and your child shared responsibility towards the injured parties. Contact us at (833) LETS-SUE to learn more about your case and your rights as a parent from a top-rated personal injury lawyer.

In California, this parent/child liability is akin to vicarious liability, even though the child is not really an employee or servant of the master. However, the responsible adult is in loco parentis and hence, liable for a nominal amount unless the parent did, in fact, direct such violative conduct.

However, some states’ parental responsibility laws now hold parents responsible to a certain degree for their children’s actions. If a child causes financial damages to another individual in the form of injuries or property damage, the parent may have to cover the losses incurred by the victim.

Besides civil injuries and damages, parental liability may also extend to criminal acts committed by their child. The events surrounding the criminal act and the state’s law will help determine parental liability so they are held liable for their child’s criminal actions.

Personal Injury Caused by Children: Can I Be Held Liable for My Children’s Actions?

A parent’s liability does not automatically arise from injuries or damages resulting from the acts of their children. However, some states hold parents financially responsible for the damages resulting from their children’s actions.

To explain the extent of parental responsibility and hold parents liable, here are some situations in which parents can be liable for the damages caused by their children. (civil and criminal sanctions.)

Lack of Supervision

If a parent was negligent in the supervision of their child resulting in injuries or accidents, the parent might be responsible due to their negligence in supervision. The plaintiff must establish that the injury caused was due to the lack of supervision by the parent.

For example, suppose the parent leaves their child in a running car to get some groceries quickly, and the minor puts the vehicle in reverse, leading to an accident causing injuries to another person. In that case, the parent may be responsible for those damages.

Parental Negligence

This involves the parent knowing that their actions could lead to injuries or damages. For example, if a parent lets their 15-year-old drive the family car to their friend’s place, the parent may be responsible for any damages arising from their negligence.

Family Purpose Doctrine

The doctrine holds the vehicle owner responsible for any damages arising from a family member’s use of the vehicle. A parent may be liable for injuries from an accident caused by their teenage child on a family errand.

Vicarious Liability Vs. Direct Liability: Know the Difference

The difference between vicarious and direct liability is crucial to understand to help determine parental liability. Under the respondeat superior, vicarious liability is a secondary form of liability that holds the superior responsible for the actions of their subordinate.

In other words, if the parent has the right ability or duty to control their child’s actions but fails to do so may be responsible for the injuries and damages arising from the child’s actions.

Even if the parent does not give their consent, the law may hold them responsible for the child’s actions as parental duty involves the supervision of minors. Agency theory, family car doctrine, and permissive use doctrine are some situations that can give rise to vicarious liability for a child’s acts.

Although the primary purpose of vicarious liability is to compensate victims, it also aims to encourage parental control. In states where there are caps on the damages that an injured victim can recover from the parent, it suggests that legislation pertaining to parental liability compensates the victims and encourages parents to take control of their minor children and exercise a reasonable duty of care.

Most state laws clearly mention parental liability by specifying that the parents must control their children. Failing to do so is a breach of their duty resulting in direct liability. Unlike vicarious liability, direct liability occurs when a parent fails to carry out their duty, resulting in injuries or harm to others. A parent entrusting their minor child with a weapon is an example of direct liability if it injures or harms others.

When pursuing a case against the child’s parent, the plaintiff needs to prove that the child acted negligently and the parent was negligent in its supervision of the child. They must also prove that the injury or damages wouldn’t have occurred if it weren’t for the parent’s negligence.

Parental Responsibility and their Child’s Criminal Acts

Besides civil liability, parental liability may also extend to their child’s delinquent acts or criminal actions. The parental liability will depend on the state laws where the criminal act happened.

Some states have laws that hold parents responsible for the criminal acts of their children, and these are commonly referred to as parental responsibility laws. Under such laws, parents must ensure supervision and prevent their minor children from carrying out criminal acts.

Failing to prevent a child from committing a criminal act is a misdemeanor for a parent under California law since they failed to exercise reasonable care over their child. If the child is convicted, the parents could face prison time, pay a fine, or both.

Is There a Damage Cap on Parental Liability?

In most states, there are limits to parental liability. In California, parents may be liable for their child’s intentional acts for up to $25,000 per wrongful act. These limits vary from state to state, some imposing lesser liability than others. For example, in Iowa, the parent’s financial exposure is up to $2,000, unlike the $25,000 in California.

Besides monetary limits, there are also age limits that states impose. These may vary from one state to the other. In most states, the age of majority is 18, which means the state considers your children as adults rather than minors. However, in some states, the age of the majority remains 19 or 21 years of age.

Should You Contact an Attorney for Parental Liability Issues?

Since the laws vary from one state to another, a parent must speak to an experienced personal injury attorney to know their legal options and rights. An experienced attorney knows the parental liability laws of a particular state and can protect your rights in court if necessary.

However, you must reach out to a criminal defense attorney if your child commits a criminal act. The legal process is much different for criminal cases than for civil ones. A skilled criminal defense attorney would be better able to guide you and let you know the legal defenses under criminal law and civil common law.

Schedule a Free Consultation with Ehline Law

Are you suffering from a financial burden from your child’s propensity to cause problems and injuries? Do you want to sue for a child’s willful act or willful misconduct but were told the parents have no legal duty? It is always important to investigate an accident to determine the at-fault party, as your child may not be the one responsible for causing the accident.

Our highly rated personal injury lawyers in Los Angeles have years of experience assisting victims of serious injury and death to acquire compensation from the at-fault parties. To learn more, contact us 24/7 at (213) 596-9642 or use our online contact us form if you are curious about parent liability for a child’s torts and recklessness. During our free consultation, we will uncover everything you need to know about your case and whether it makes sense to form an attorney-client relationship.

Michael Ehline is an inactive U.S. Marine and world-famous legal historian. Michael helped draft the Cruise Ship Safety Act and has won some of U.S. history’s largest motorcycle accident settlements. Together with his legal team, Michael and the Ehline Law Firm collect damages on behalf of clients.
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Michael Ehline

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