Parental liability is the legal responsibility parents have for the negligent acts of their children. Those acts can be transferred (or imputed) from the child to the parent. The parent then becomes vicariously liable. In other words, the parent acts as a substitute for the consequences of their child’s actions.
In personal injury or assault cases, parents can be held responsible to pay for injuries and property damage caused by their child. A parent’s vicarious liability may also apply to their child’s criminal acts, such as vandalism.
Age Limitations of Parental Liability
Most states have their own statutes setting the maximum ages a parent or legal guardian can be held liable for the acts of their children. This is called the Age of Majority. In 48 out of 50 states, the age of majority is 18 for civil matters and 17 for criminal ones. In civil matters, the following states have exceptions to the age of majority:
- American Samoa and Puerto Rico = 14 y/o
- Nebraska and Alabama = 19 y/o
- Mississippi and Washington D.C. = 21 y/o
Once a child reaches the age of majority, his parents can no longer be held responsible for his actions. This includes responsibility for civil and criminal matters. The lowest age at which a minor’s actions can be imputed to his parents is 10 years old in most states.
In some cases, minors can petition the court to be emancipated from their parents. Emancipation legally frees a child from his or her parents’ authority, and frees the parents from liability for their child’s actions.
Scope of Parental Liability
The circumstances of the child’s actions determine the existence and degree of parental liability. Each case is unique, involving specific negligent or willful acts. In civil matters, the most common negligent acts of minors involve car accidents. Willful acts usually involve assaultive behavior.
In most states, to hold parents liable for injuries caused by their children, a victim must prove the parents’ negligence contributed to their child’s actions. To determine the degree of that contribution, the courts rely on Common Law (previous court decisions), and the “Reasonable and Foreseeable” rule.
- Reasonable means the parents could, or should have known their child had a tendency to act in a dangerous manner. Other parents in a similar position would have known about the danger.
- Foreseeable means the parents could, or should have been able to foresee that their child was capable of causing injury. Other parents in a similar position would have seen the possibility for injury.
Example: Foreseeable car accident
Ben is 16 years old, and lives at home with his parents. They recently bought him a used car, which he keeps in the driveway. He received his driver’s license three months ago, and already has two speeding tickets.
He made no effort to hide the tickets from his parents. They also know about the tickets because Ben’s court dates were mailed to their home. They had a stern discussion with Ben about his driving habits, and threatened to take away his car if he got another ticket.
Several days later, they received notice of another ticket, but didn’t follow through on their threat. They spoke with Ben, and gave him one last chance before taking his car away. The following week, Ben was speeding down a local road and crashed into another vehicle, causing extensive property damage and injuring the passengers.
The injured parties sued Ben and his parents. They said the parents should have known about their son’s reckless driving, and should have taken appropriate action to stop him from speeding. They alleged it was foreseeable Ben would eventually cause an accident.
The parents responded by stating they can’t be held liable because they did everything they could to stop their son from speeding. They said they weren’t in the car at the time, and therefore couldn’t foresee he was going to cause a collision.
After hearing the evidence, the court decided the parents were liable for Ben’s actions, which caused the car accident and injuries. The court determined the parents were in a position to know their son’s driving habits. He lived in their home and they knew about his tickets, but they still didn’t do the responsible thing as parents and take his car away.
They knew about Ben’s reckless driving, so it was entirely foreseeable to them that he’d eventually cause an accident. There were also no barriers between Ben and his parents, which would have made taking his car away unreasonably difficult.
Example: Unforeseeable assault
Mike was 15 years old, and had a reputation for starting fights with some of his classmates. On more than one occasion, he was warned by the principal to stop his aggressive behavior before he seriously hurt someone. Otherwise, Mike had an excellent scholastic record, and always behaved well at home.
There were no other indicators of Mike’s tendency toward violence. His parents attended the traditional parent-teacher meetings, and at no time did his teachers, or any other school officials, express concern that their son displayed violent behavior.
One day, Mike started a fight. This time he seriously injured another boy by willfully kicking him so hard he broke several of the boy’s ribs.
The injured boy’s parents sued Mike and his parents for their son’s injuries. They said Mike’s parents had every reasonable opportunity to admonish their son, and to take appropriate action to stop him from further aggressive behavior.
They said Mike’s parents should have known about their son’s propensity for violence. As a result, it was entirely foreseeable for them to expect that their son would eventually cause serious injury to another youngster.
After hearing the evidence, the court decided Mike’s parents were not liable for his actions. For Mike’s parents to be held vicariously liable for his willful acts, they must have had a reasonable opportunity to know about his violent behavior.
There was no indication of Mike’s behavioral problems at home, and his parents had no reason to expect his behavior was different at school.
In the absence of any indicators at home, Mike’s parents had a right to expect that his teachers or principal would inform them of his aggressive behavior. The school staff wholly failed to do so. As a result, the court found it was unforeseeable for Mike’s parents to know of their son’s violent behavior, therefore, they couldn’t do anything about it.
Parental Liability for a Teenage Car Accident
Two teens got into a bad accident after leaving a friend’s home, where the parents allowed them to drink. Legal actions were brought against the driver for DUI, and the parents for negligence.
How Much is Your Injury Claim Worth?
Find out now with a FREE case review from an attorney…
Search for a Previously Answered Question
My 17-year-old was in an automobile accident and was at fault. Her mother and I are divorced and are both remarried. I am the domicile parent and I bought my daughter a car and put only my name on the title. Our insurance just informed us that the other party had retained a lawyer because... Read More.
Our 17 year old son was injured as a passenger in a car accident. Full responsibility for the accident was placed on the 17 year old driver of the car our son was riding in. Their insurance coverage $100,000. Our son’s medical bills are at $300,000. How can we still go after the at-fault driver’s... Read More.
I live in Minnesota and my son is 17. He and his girlfriend were driving in an uninsured car where he was the passenger and she was the driver. According to her, they got into a fight and he grabbed the wheel causing her to get into an accident. It’s a “he said, she said”... Read More.
My son was spending the night at a friend’s house. Unbeknownst to me my son and his friend were taken to another home where there was an unsupervised party. The cousin of the friend that they were visiting was house sitting and decided to have an impromptu party and said he could invite friends as... Read More.
My wife and I want to protect our assets from potential liability associated with our 19 yr. old daughter taking a car to college. She is a full time student, but we provide most of her support and we claim her as a dependent on our taxes. She lives at home during the summer and... Read More.
My son was driving a vehicle which he was making payments on from his boss. His boss could not produce the title but told my son he would keep the truck registered and insured until he could file for a lost title. My son was in an accident and the boy that hit him took... Read More.
A parent is supposed to be watching her child, but instead is taking selfies and partying in her back yard. As a result, her child runs into the street and causes a car to swerve, resulting in a fatal accident. The child was not injured himself. Can the parent be charged with causing the accident/manslaughter?... Read More.
My daughter was in her Special education room at school during a passing period and she was messing around with another student. She was acting like she was going to punch him and she missed the first time and did it again and caught him in the nose. The other student’s mother came took him... Read More.
My 16 year old son snuck out of the house 2 nights ago and met up with an 18 year old friend and her friend’s house. I had forbidden my son from seeing this particular friend because she had proven not to be a good influence on him before. The friend let him drive the... Read More.
My 12 year old son got into a fight with a 14 year old child while he was at his mother’s house. She has custody of him and I have expanded visitation. My son was charged with Assault and Bodily Injury by the ADA and has a court hearing soon. My question is, am I... Read More.
My son came home from a scout meeting one evening stating he hit his head really hard and wasn’t clear on how it happened. After he kept repeating himself several times and displaying odd behavior I took him to the ER, where he was diagnosed with a concussion. After a few days we found out... Read More.
I have a 17 year old daughter. Her friend let drive her car. She then was in an accident where there were injuries. This was without my knowledge nor consent. I am divorced and do not have legal guardianship, but my daughter does live with me. Am I liable to pay for damages caused by... Read More.
I went to pick my son up from school. He is in the first grade. It was a Friday before vacation. My son came out the school door. He asked if he could say goodbye to his friend, and I gave him five minutes (because we were leaving for a family trip). He dropped his... Read More.
A student with special needs caused spinal damage (L5-S1) and nerve damage to a teacher’s aide. The worker is left with a 15% disability, with long term permanent injuries and chronic pain. Are the parents liable if the special needs child injured the paraprofessional causing long term partial disability? Can the injured worker sue the... Read More.
I live in the State of OHIO and I’m 58 years old at present and was 55 at the time of this accident. I have no Traffic issues for over 30 years and no accidents for over 38 years. The accident: A 16 year old teenager made a left turn from a side street on... Read More.
The insurance company said they would accept liability for the accident because my daughter (16 years old) did not keep control of the car. It was snowing and her back end went into the other lane. The driver of the other car was speeding and hit the trunk. The other driver has already filed an... Read More.
Our two college students will we using our third vehicle, an 18 year old Camry. The car is on our insurance, but the two boys are not listed on the policy in CA. They are 20 and 24. There is another 20 year old that does not need a car at this time. What is... Read More.
My stepson has been restricted from driving our car because of lying and sneaking out. His biological mom is letting him drive her car, without our permission. We believe she does not have him listed on her auto insurance for this car, although he is insured on our auto insurance policy for our cars). If... Read More.
Our 19-year old daughter was driving on the interstate (we live in Oregon) on a winter day. Conditions became icy and she lost control of the vehicle (was under the speed limit, but driving too fast for conditions – no citation issued). Her car collided with a median barrier then crashed into another vehicle in... Read More.
Are parents liable for 18 year old son driving his own unregistered car without a license or insurance?
My 18 year old son is driving his own car and has no insurance and no driver’s license. The car is not even registered in his name yet as he has not transferred title, and it’s not current with tags. He currently lives at home. Are my husband and I responsible for our son’s actions?... Read More.
My 17 year old son has had his learners permit for over a year and is a decent driver. He was told he could get his operators license once he got a part time job to cover the cost of insurance and fuel. But he took the car on a joyride 2 counties away. Had... Read More.
If my 17 year old son was in a car accident, and he has no previous traffic violations and is a good student, can the parent/step parent be sued if the car is registered in the mother’s name? He has insurance. Would it be different is the car was registered in his name? What are... Read More.
I have a 20yr old son who is working, but still lives at home. If he buys a car and insures it under his own name, am I legally liable for him if he is involved in an accident and injures someone? We live in NY. Do I need to insure him or should he... Read More.
My son was playing at the park after school. Another boy came from out of nowhere and jumped on his back, causing my son to bear the other child’s weight. My son slipped, hyper-extended his leg, and the boy landed on my son’s knee. The injury needed emergent treatment, multiple follow-ups and possibly ongoing therapy.... Read More.
I was a student-teacher at an elementary school, and a 5th grade student threw a basketball at my eye. It caused immediate swelling, pain that still bothers me up to this day, and my eye bulged from the swelling for months. I had to go to the doctor numerous times, and I had to have... Read More.
I received a call from the principal of the school where our 11 year old goes. He said our son and a girl were running after a ball at recess and our son knocked here down. He said he reviewed the situation with teachers and it wasn’t intentional. He also said our son is always... Read More.
My 10 year old son was punched in the head during recess time in school by another 10 year old child. The other student is well known in school for his outbursts and misbehavior. Prior to hitting my son, the same student punched a girl in the face giving her a bloody nose. My son... Read More.
Joe and John had worked weeks on preparing for their Las Vegas Children Oriented Show. The children (from the audience) are part of the show. The show incorporated swords, whips, and gloves. The Festival provided stage, sound, security and lighting. Joe and John provide padded swords for the children to use in the show. They... Read More.
My nephew was at recess on the playground playing soccer when he was tripped by another student and fell to the ground. After he had fallen, the boy then proceeded to step on his leg. My nephew could not get up and was carried to the nurse’s office when my sister then was called and... Read More.
In Pennsylvania, does transferring a vehicle title to my 17 year old child offer any protection from liability, should she be involved in an incident with the vehicle? Or will I continue to be liable until the age of 18? In short, I’m wondering what’s the personal liability of a parent in PA for the... Read More.
My 17 year old son and another 17 year old boy agreed to meet at a park on a Sunday and fight. The fight was recorded by another boy and shows that the two boys touched hands before the fight began. Several days later I received a call from the police urging me to contact... Read More.
I was in a store with my son, and while I was paying at the register my child spilled his milk on the floor. The customer behind me slipped and fell. I was unaware that my child spilled milk on the floor, and the accident occurred after I left the store. Am I, or the... Read More.
Two boys were play fighting at school. Things escalated and after being punched in the chest, one boy punched back and hit the other boy in the face. One of the boy’s teeth were knocked out, requiring emergency dental work. Are the parents of the child who knocked out the tooth liable for the medical... Read More.
My minor son was walking to his friend’s house and was assaulted by 2 other minor boys. A police report was taken. I took my son to the ER for medical attention. It was found that he had a concussion, abrasions, and a fractured nose. I have filed charges against one of the minor boys... Read More.
While my child was in the care of his father on August 9 2009, his father dropped him off at a friends house to spend the night (his father and I are not together). While at the friend’s house my son pulled a cord on their garage door and it fell on another child’s ankle.... Read More.
My husband told my son not to drive his truck until he got insurance. We then found out my son drove the truck and was in a car accident (he had no insurance). They say my son was at fault in the accident. Is my son or my husband liable for the victim’s injuries and... Read More.
My daughter (17yrs old) was involved in a teenage car accident. The collision was my daughter’s fault. The car she was driving is registered to me her mother. She did not have car insurance. I received court papers saying I’m being sued by the other party’s insurance company. What do you think I should do? Read More.
I just have a quick question about a teen car accident… If my daughter got into an accident with her car can they sue my husband or me? I am listed on the car’s insurance policy, he is her stepfather but he owns the house and two other cars. Will we be totally liable for... Read More.
My son is under my auto insurance. As he was backing into a parking spot a woman walked behind the car and was hit. She was taken to the hospital before the police arrived. My son had no information about her other than the fact she was speaking and was going to get up but... Read More.
My son had a myspace page and he was “friended” by a girl who had her age posted as 19 next to her picture. He “friended” her back. Now I know that on myspace you have to check the box agreeing to terms and conditions and if you are 14 or under your page is... Read More.