Parental Liability for the Actions of Minors
Being a parent is hard. This is especially true if your child commits negligent, intentional, and/or criminal acts. Most parents don’t know that they can be held legally responsible for the actions of their children. Parents have a legal duty to reasonably supervise their children, and if they fail to fulfill that duty, they may be held responsible.
What Is Parental Liability?Parental liability is the legal responsibility parents have for the negligent, intentional, or criminal acts of their children. In some circumstances, a parent can be vicariously liable for the acts of their children—meaning the parent suffers the consequences of their child’s actions. Penalties that can be accessed to parents for violations committed by their children include: financial responsibility for restitution payments and court costs; financial responsibility for detention, treatment, and supervisory costs; mandatory participation in treatment, counseling, or other diversion programs; and even jail time if a court finds that a parent was negligent in the supervision of a child who committed a crime.
Parents can be held responsible for the acts of their children until the children reach the age of majority. The age of majority varies from state to state, but in most states, it is 18 years old for civil matters and 17 years old for criminal matters.
Civil Parental LiabilityCivil cases occur when a person acts or fails to act in a way that causes harm to another person. In civil cases, one party is typically seeking monetary damages stemming from the harmful actions of the offending party. Parents can generally be held responsible for all malicious, willful, knowing, intentional, and even negligent damage done by their children. These do not include accidents or behavior by children who are too young or lack the capacity to form the mental state needed for such deliberation. Parental civil liability is intended to compensate victims of these negligent acts and to encourage parental control and supervision.
Criminal Parental LiabilityImposing criminal liability on parents for the acts of their children occurs less often than civil liability, but can occur when the parent fails to supervise their children or fails to control the behavior of their children and that child commits a criminal act. All states have laws where a parent can be charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Under these laws, parents cannot encourage children to commit a delinquent act, or entice minors into stealing or using drugs or alcohol. Parents may also be criminally liable if their child uses a gun or ammunition to commit a crime, which was not secured by the parent. Another example of criminal liability is for internet crimes such as cyber bullying or hacking. In these cases a parent may be held responsible for their child’s online crime(s).
Parental liability is a complex area of law, and varies from state to state in terms of the type of conduct that will trigger parental liability. If your child commits an act that you may be held responsible for, you may need the skills of an experienced family lawyer, litigation lawyer, or criminal lawyer to help resolve the matter. You can find an experienced lawyer by quickly posting a short summary of your legal needs on Legal Services Link and letting the perfect lawyer come to you!
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