Children get into trouble; it’s a given part of their growing-up process. However, when their actions cause damage to someone else’s person or property, many parents may not realize that they too could be liable for their child’s actions.
The courts decided long ago that it was unfair for someone to bear the financial burden or medical expenses resulting from another person’s wrongdoing. In fact, the first state law of this type was enacted in Hawaii in 1846. The reasoning behind this legislation was that parents have a legal responsibility to supervise their minor children, and if the minor child causes property damage due to negligent, malicious or willful actions, the parents can be held liable.
A child may willfully disregard a parent’s direction, or the mischief may occur because of improper supervision, and the damage can be as simple as a baseball going through a neighbor’s window or spray-painted graffiti, or as complicated as a computer hacking issue. Far too frequently, you read in the news that a child finds a handgun and accidentally shoots another child, or that a minor child takes a car and causes an accident.
Parental liability extends to both criminal and civil liability. Parents may be legally forced to compensate an injured party or repair damage done by a child’s actions. Parents may also be subject to lawsuits or criminal sanctions in some cases. Parental liability ends when the child becomes of majority age of 18, or if the child is legally emancipated by statute and deemed no longer under a parent’s supervision or responsibility.
Non-Criminal Liability for a Minor
Non-criminal liability, also known as vicarious liability, extends to actions that might include vandalism, defacement, or property destroyed in a hate crime. Parents are also liable for negligent actions when they know they must supervise the child and fail to do so, known as negligent supervision. Not only parents, but grandparents, guardians, and anyone having custody of the child can be liable.
Use of the family car also carries liability. The Family Car Doctrine holds the owner of that car liable for any damage caused by the driver of that car, if the owner knew of and consented to the family member’s use of the car, even if the minor child is not listed on the auto insurance policy. The uninsured motorist provision would not apply if the minor child is living in the insured’s household.
Criminal Liability for a Minor
Some states hold parents criminally liable when children gain access to firearms, or if parents know that their child is in possession of a firearm and do not take it away. More serious penalties are applied if the minor child causes injury or death. In Virginia, it is considered a misdemeanor to recklessly leave a loaded firearm within reach of a child so as to endanger the limb or life of any child under the age of 15; however, exceptions can be made if the gun is stored in a locked box and secured with a trigger lock. Criminal liability also extends to certain unlawful computer and internet activities, such as hacking, cell-phone and video cameras, and viewing (or sharing – such as “sexting”) pornography or other inappropriate photos.
Delinquent youth also fall under the area of parental liability. In Virginia and nearby North Carolina, parents are required to reimburse the State for costs associated with the detention, care, support or treatment of their child while under state agency supervision.
Children under the age of 18 are typically processed through the juvenile justice system, and not the adult criminal justice system, and are subject to laws designed for juvenile offenders. In some cases, the child may need a lawyer to represent them. But since they cannot contract with an attorney on their own, parents need to be involved.
Contact Your Family Law Attorney
As family law attorneys in Northern Virginia, The Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor P.L.L.C. can assist parents in addressing issues of parental liability or their child for acts of mischief leading to civil or criminal liability involving a minor child. Whether you need expert advice, or to engage the services of an attorney, call attorneys Patricia Tichenor or Camellia Safi today to get an experienced advocate on your side.