If A Child Causes A Personal injury, Can The Parents Be Held Liable?



It is not unusual to hear personal injury cases resulting from a teenager, child or minor’s negligence. When these regrettable incidents happen, the initial question of the victim would be: Who would compensate them for his injuries? Can the parents of the child be held responsible for the acts of the child?

As a general rule, parents are not responsible for tortuous acts of their children. The Supreme Court decided in Hagerty v. Powers (1885) 66 Cal. 368 that “traditionally, under the common law, the mere fact of a parent-child relationship was not a basis for vicarious liability.” In the Hagerty case, an eleven-year old boy wounded another child with a pistol shot. The plaintiff alleged that the defendant’s father “willfully, carelessly, and negligently suffered, permitted, countenanced, and allowed” his son to handle the pistol. Still, the Supreme Court ruled that the parent was not liable for his son’s acts.

A child may not be old enough to have the intention necessary for a tort. The standard of care expected from a child of his age will be used to test the negligence in question. However, there are certain exceptions to such general rules. If you have suffered a personal injury due to the negligence of a minor, you may find relief in one of the following exceptions:

  • When the child’s tort occurred within the scope and course of an agency relationship. In here, the child is acting as an agent under the direction or control of the parent.
  • When the parent has knowledge of the child’s prior misconduct. This means that the parent was negligent in failing to control the child’s wrongful act.
  • When the child engaged in a willful misconduct that is beyond ordinary negligence. In such instances, the child deliberately caused physical harm against another person.
These exceptions grew together with the range of civil torts that were committed by minors over the last number of decades. Although parents cannot be held criminally responsible, they may be compelled to pay fines and civil indemnity to the victim on behalf of their offspring. These additional liabilities of parents differ from state to state, as can when a child is still be considered a “minor”. Insurance policies can also cover the property and liability indemnities.

If you need to know the most up-to-date and accurate information about this aspect of personal injury law, it is best to consult a local personal injury attorney.

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