Parental Liability Basics
Parental liability is the term used to refer to a parent's obligation to pay for damage caused by negligent, intentional, or criminal acts committed by the parent's child. Parental liability usually ends when the child reaches the age of majority and doesn't begin until the child reaches 8 to 10 years old. Today, most states have laws relating to parental liability in various applications.
Children's offenses can be civil or criminal in nature. Civil cases are lawsuits brought by a person for money damages. Criminal cases, on the other hand, are brought by the government for violations of criminal law. Many acts can trigger both civil and criminal legal repercussions.
Civil Parental Liability
In most states, parents are responsible for all malicious or willful property damage done by their children. This is called civil parental liability because it’s non-criminal. The parent is obligated only to financially compensate the party harmed by his or her child's actions.
Laws vary by state regarding the monetary limits on damages that can be collected, the age limits of the child, and the inclusion of personal injury in the tort claim. Hawaii's parental liability law remains one of the most broadly applied as it doesn't limit the financial recovery and imposes liability for both negligent and intentional torts by the minor child.
Criminal Parental Liability
Laws making parents criminally responsible for the delinquent acts of their children followed the civil liability statutes. In 1903, Colorado was the first state to enact a law against "contributing to the delinquency of a minor." At least 42 other states and DC now have laws against contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
Other examples of criminal liability include firearm access and Internet crime related laws. Twenty-eight states and DC have child firearm access prevention laws that, generally, make it illegal for a parent to leave a firearm within reach of his or her child. Modernly, in some Internet access and computer hacking laws cases, a parent can be responsible for their child's online crimes.
Parental liability only applies to your minor or underage children. The age of majority is the age at which a minor, in the eyes of the state law, becomes an adult. This age is 18 in most states. In a few other states, the age of majority is 19 or 21. You may want to check your state's legal age of majority laws.
A minor is considered a resident of the same state as the minor's custodial parent or guardian. If your minor child spends time with two parents in two different states, each parent is responsible for the child's actions while in their care.
Since homeowners or renters insurance includes both property and liability coverage, wrongful acts of children or negligent supervision claims may be covered even if the act took place away from a policyholder's home. These policies typically cover legal liability in the event that anyone suffers an injury while on the insured property, even if the injury was committed by another household member or the result of negligence on the part of the policyholder.
If you have children and don't have homeowners or renters insurance yet, you may want to consider investing in a policy. If you have additional questions about your existing policy or need help with a lawsuit related to your child’s behavior, you may wish to consult an experienced real estate or personal injury defense attorney.