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Parental Liability: Are You Legally Responsible for Your Kids’ Actions?

by Whitney O’Sullivan

Parental Liability: Are You Legally Responsible for Your Kids’ Actions?

Being a parent isn’t easy. It is hard enough to make it through each day having bathed, fed, and kept your child reasonably happy. On top of all that, you are also legally responsible for the independent acts of your mini-me. Really.

Let’s look at some of the different ways in which parents are legally responsible for their children’s actions.

Civil Financial Liability

Imagine your child is 5. He unexpectedly pulls a chair out from underneath an arthritic woman and she falls, injuring herself. Your son is found to be responsible for the act and now must pay. He is clearly a minor and within your care. As such, who is responsible for his actions and his debt? The answer, sadly, is likely you.

A parent can be held financially liable for damages caused by their child under the age of 18, regardless of whether the parent was involved in the incident. Some states place a limit on the amount of recovery possible from parents, while others keep it broad and ambiguous. Most states have Parental Liability Laws which identify certain acts a parent can be held financially responsible for, and which depict specific limitations.

Negligent Supervision

Now imagine that your 5 year old has a history of pulling chairs out from underneath arthritic women. He does it yet again, and the latest victim is injured. Again, who is liable?

We already know that if your son is found liable for the act that you will be indirectly (financially) responsible. Is it possible however, given your son’s rambunctious history, that you are directly liable for the injury?

The theory of negligent supervision says yes. Negligent supervision is the failure to control a child’s actions when a parent (or grandparent, guardian, etc.) knows that the child’s actions need controlling. Such is the case here, where your son has a history of moving chairs and injuring people but you did not stop him from doing it, did not warn the arthritic woman about the possibility that her chair may be moved, and did not take any other steps to prevent the injury.

In this case, much like the first, you, the parent, will again be financially responsible. The difference is that this responsibility results from your own direct liability, not your son’s, and as such is not limited or controlled by any related statutes.

Negligent Entrustment

Your son grows up and is now able to drive. As a parent, and being excited to no longer chauffeur him everywhere, you want to lend him your car. You know that he is prone to joyriding, as many teens are. What is your legal responsibility?

When you knowingly and willingly lend your car to your son, with the knowledge that he is prone to acting recklessly (or is unlicensed or incompetent), you become fully liable for any and all damage he may cause. This liability is without limits and your responsibility to bear.

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As if you weren’t already aware, having a child is a huge responsibility. It goes far beyond protecting and fostering their own wellbeing into protecting the rest of the world from them, or cleaning up their messes (financial and otherwise). Knowing your legal responsibilities and role can help you make wiser decisions. When it comes to the law and your kids, you’ll never regret knowing it.