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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 does not begin until the child reaches an age of between eight and ten. Today, most states have laws relating to parental liability in various applications. Children's offenses can be civil and/or criminal in nature. Civil cases are lawsuits for money damages. The government brings criminal cases 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. Laws vary from state to state regarding the monetary limits on damages that can be collected, the age limit 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 in that it does not limit the financial bounds of recovery, and imposes liability for both negligent and intentional torts by underage persons.

Criminal Parental Liability

Laws making parents criminally responsible for the delinquent acts of their children followed civil liability statutes. In 1903, Colorado became the first state to establish the crime of "contributing to the delinquency of a minor."


A minor is a person under the age of majority. The age of majority is the age at which a minor, in the eyes of the law, becomes an adult. This age is 18 in most states. In a few other states, the age of majority is 19 or 21. A minor is considered to be a resident of the same state as the minor's custodial parent or guardian.

Insurance Coverage

Since homeowners 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 residence. Homeowner's 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.

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