Dear John, I'm wondering to what extent parents are liable for the actions of their minor children. Can parents be sued for the deeds of their children?
In other words, can parents be held liable for failing in their duty toward society by bringing up an unruly juvenile who does damage to other persons or property? Does it make a difference whether the child lives at home or not?
1Essentially, parents have a duty to supervise their children. The person the child lives with may have a greater duty than the other parent, unless the incident occurred while the child was in the other parent's house. If they are negligent in carrying out this duty, they may be held liable.
A history of the child's unruly behavior can serve to put the parents on notice that there needs to be extra vigilance in providing supervision.
This is similar to biting dogs: Dogs with a known history of biting need to be watched more closely and warnings given to potential victims.
The child's age and ability to determine right from wrong will influence both the amount of liability the child has and the duty to supervise.
The extent of liability is up to the court to decide. There could be mitigating factors, such as a school assuming supervisory responsibility at the time of the incident.
Liability issues are very case-specific. Therefore, I cannot give you a definitive answer about liability.
Suffice it to say, when there is an injury, a harmed person will go after every possible defendant to seek restitution. Usually, this means looking for "deep pockets" (someone with money).
Generally, that means children are not the main target because they usually do not have an income. Parents are the next party looked at.
I hope this helps,
John Hartzell is a practicing Walla Walla attorney. No attorney-client relationship is established via this column, which is for educational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Any information given is to illustrate basic legal concepts and does not state how any court would decide any matter. Have a question? Ask John at firstname.lastname@example.org.