Most states impose liability on parents for intentional actions by minor children that cause injuries or damage. In some states, parents also may bear liability for accidents caused by minor children, who are generally defined as children under 18. The idea is that victims have no other recourse for compensation, since children lack their own financial resources, and people who are injured through no fault of their own should not need to pay the resulting costs. Also, society expects parents to supervise their children to a reasonable extent so that they do not cause harm.
Limits on Parental Liability and Damages Caps
Each state has its own definition for the scope of parental responsibility in situations in which a child acts carelessly rather than intentionally. These usually relate to the context in which the behavior occurred. California imposes liability for a child’s negligence only in the context of car accidents, and only when the child had permission from the parents to use the car. By contrast, Illinois imposes liability for a child’s negligence when this causes damage to a religious structure. In New Jersey, parents can be held responsible only if a child causes damage to school property or certain types of public property.
Some states impose limits on the amount of damages that a victim can obtain from a parent who is being held liable for their child’s actions. For example, California limits damages for medical expenses to $25,000 in this situation and also imposes a limit for property damage. Illinois limits exposure to $20,000 in total for any single incident, and New Jersey imposes a damages cap of $5,000. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Louisiana does not impose any damages cap. If you are a parent and are concerned about getting sued because of an accident caused by your child, you should research your state’s law to assess the scope of your liability. This may determine whether it is worthwhile to hire a lawyer to represent you.
Car Accidents Caused by Children
Teenagers cause a disproportionate number of car accidents compared to other age groups. This results in part from their lack of experience behind the wheel and in part from their lesser ability to appreciate the risks of driving. For example, teens are especially prone to texting or talking on the phone while driving.
Some states impose general parental liability for car accidents caused by children under the age of 18. These states require a parent to pay damages to a victim for any injuries or property damage caused by the child. The situation becomes more complex in states that have passed sponsorship laws. If a child under 18 needs a sponsor to get a driver’s license, these states make the sponsor liable for an accident, even if the sponsor is not a parent. While the sponsor is often a parent, they may also be another family member or even an employer. The sponsor will need to pay damages for any careless conduct or intentional wrongdoing by the child while driving, regardless of whether the sponsor owned the vehicle or had any control over the child at the time.