Parents can be held responsible for the harm their minor children cause, but not in every situation. Sometimes children can be taken to court too.
When Are Parents Responsible?
Parents with parental authority over a child can be held responsible for damage caused by the child. Damage is the harm a person suffers because of another person’s fault. The harm might be physical, psychological or material (damage to property).
Why? Parents are held responsible because they have a duty to educate and supervise their minor children. So, if their minor child (a child under 18) causes harm to another person, the law says that the parents have not met their duty. The harm would not have occurred if the child had been properly supervised and educated.
Parents can be held responsible even if the child no longer lives with them. For example, the child goes to school in another city.
A parent who does not have custody of the child can also be held responsible for the child’s actions. Parents who are separated continue to be responsible for their children if they still have parental authority.
Sometimes Parents Are Not Legally Responsible
In some cases, parents will not be held responsible for the damage caused by their children. They must convince the judge that they carried out their duty to educate and supervise their children properly.
Things Judges Will Consider
Custody and Supervision
- Could the parent have predicted or prevented the child’s action at the time the damage occurred?
- Does the parent supervise the child in a way that fits the circumstances and the child’s age, character and behaviour?
- What values did the parent teach the child?
- What behaviour does the parent allow or not allow in the family?
- What example does the parent set?
- What safety rules does the parent make for dangerous games or activities?
Parents can also do these things:
- give the judge a copy of the child’s school record
- show that they are involved in the child’s extracurricular activities
- have neighbours give the judge their opinions about the parents
The child’s age is also important. There is less chance a parent will be held responsible for the actions of a child who is almost 18.
Important! Simply warning a child about a possible danger is not always enough.
Judges put a lot of emphasis on parents’ ability to predict their child’s actions. Some judges find that parents who ignore their child’s bad behaviour are responsible. They think these parents should have made an extra effort to warn their children and take precautions.
Children Are Sometimes Taken to Court
Children who cause damage can be taken to court and held legally responsible for their actions.
To be held responsible for their actions, minors must be able to reason and tell the difference between right and wrong. Children are usually able to do this around age seven. But judges look at each case individually.
For example, a three-year-old child is playing on a balcony and drops a toy on the head of someone walking by. The child will probably not be held responsible for any damage caused. But if the parents were not supervising the child properly, they will be held responsible.
If both the child and the parents are taken to court, the judge decides what part of the harm each is responsible for.
Call Your Insurance Company If Your Child Causes Damage
Parents must notify their insurance company as soon as they realize their child has caused damage, or as soon as they get the situation under control.
Parents’ civil liability insurance usually covers physical injury and damage to property caused by a child. The parents’ insurance company usually handles the claim or court case started by the victim or the victim’s own insurance company. Home insurance policies often include civil liability.
Important! Insurance companies can refuse to cover an incident if they were not informed soon enough after it happened.