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The Law Firm of Herb Santos, Jr
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Personal Injury Newsletter

Parents' Responsibility for Minors' Actions

In most states, the age of majority (when a person is recognized by law as an adult), is 18 years of age or older. A “minor” is a person who is under the age of 18. When a minor breaks the law or causes damage or injury to another person, an animal or property, the minor’s parents may bear the liability. Many state statutes authorize courts to hold parents financially responsible for the damages caused by their minor children. Some states may even hold parents criminally liable for failing to supervise a child whom they know to be delinquent.

Parental Liability for Minors

In general, minors are liable for their misdeeds. However, when a minor acts intentionally or negligently in a manner that causes harm to another, it is difficult to collect damages from the minor. In such a situation, the minor’s parents may also be held liable for their child’s acts and/or ordered to pay for them. A “parent” can be anyone exercising parental authority over the child, but typically refers to the “custodial” parent. Although they vary widely by state, most parental liability laws target intentional, malicious or reckless behavior and exclude pure accidents. Parental liability stems from the custodial parents’ obligation to supervise and educate their children.

Types of Acts by Minors for Which Parents May be Liable

Many states have enacted laws which hold custodial parents responsible for delinquent acts of their minor children, including:

  • Vandalism
  • Theft and shoplifting
  • Automobile accidents
  • Fights and assaults
  • File sharing (e.g., music industry copyright cases)

Generally speaking, individuals who are injured or harmed by a minor may be able to file suit against both the minor and the minor’s parents.

Theories of Parental Liability

In most instances, the liability of parents for the acts of their minor children is based on their legal relationship. A parent may thus be considered to be “vicariously liable” for the acts of their children, and the law may hold them responsible for the damages their child causes. Parental liability may be found in some of the following circumstances:

  • The parent has knowledge of prior misconduct
  • The parent signed the child’s drivers’ license application, or the child drives the parents’ car with permission
  • The child is guilty of willful misconduct
  • The child was given access to firearms
  • The child defaces another’s property
  • The child is convicted of a crime and ordered to pay restitution

Amount of Parental Liability

State statutes holding parents liable for damages caused by their minor children vary widely on the type of delinquent act committed and the amount parents must pay. Some states cap the amount of damages for which parents are liable to pay to a few thousand dollars, while other states may hold parents liable for unlimited amounts. In California, for example, parents can be liable up to $25,000 for each tort or act of willful misconduct committed by a minor that causes injury, death or property damage. On the other hand, in New York, parents are only liable for willful and malicious acts of their minor children up to $5,000 per incident.

Insurance Coverage

Although some homeowner’s insurance policies may cover the costs of legal fees and pay for some claims of damage resulting from a minor child’s acts, such coverage is usually limited. Forinstance, in California, the insurer is not liable for more than $10,000. Policies and exclusions vary by state, but typically, most homeowners insurance will cover the acts of children under a certain age (such as 11, 12 or 13) and only for acts of negligence, but not intentional acts. In some cases, depending on the insurer, additional “policy riders” might be available for purchase after a child reaches a certain age in order to extend the coverage. Generally, however, polices often exclude illegal or willful and malicious acts and thus may, for example, exclude property damages caused by burglary committed by a minor. In such a case, the parents may be required to pay the entire amount or the statutory cap.

Escaping Liability

Where it is recognized, parental liability is generally difficult to escape. In some instances, however, parents may be able to show that they should not be liable for the damages caused by their minor children. Depending on the state and applicable statute, parents may be able to escape liability when they can sufficiently demonstrate that:

  • The minor’s act was not willful and malicious
  • The minor has been “emancipated” (treated as an adult under the eyes of the law)
  • The parent was not the “custodial” parent of the minor at the time
  • The minor was institutionalized
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cindi jenkins
cindi jenkins
February 3, 2023
Herb is one of very few CERTIFIED SPECIALISTS IN WORKERS COMP in the state of Nevada. He is ranked in the nations top 1% by the National Association of Distinguished Counsel. The American Institute of Trail Lawyers have distinguished him as the Litigator of the Year for 2023. Need I say more. He is a fierce lawyer who fights for his clients rights and compensation. He is knowledgeable and compassionate. I have utilized his services over the last several years and would not consider anyone else.
Lorelei Le Blanc
Lorelei Le Blanc
June 5, 2022
Always honest and helpful
Joey Walcomb
Joey Walcomb
August 24, 2021
Herb Santos Jr. is everything you could wish for in a lawyer and then some. I am in awe of how Mr. Santos conducts himself in the court room also, he is a master of his craft. Mr. Santos and his team are a remarkable bunch. They have helped me through my complicated workers comp case, and have gone above and beyond what I could ever dreamed is possible. I can not recommend Mr. Santos and his team enough. They are prompt, professional and really listen to me. His fees are acceptable for the amount of work he does and he also has not cost me anything out of pocket. No one should go into the court room alone, so why not go with the best of the best.
Neil Walker
Neil Walker
August 23, 2021
Friendly and very well represent able I would definitely recommend them to anyone
Kyle Jacobs
Kyle Jacobs
August 12, 2021
I HIGHLY recommend Mr. Santos if you ever find yourself in a workers comp situation. He was able to answer any question I ever had. Mr. Santos and his office made sure I got everything I needed and was on top of everything when something went wrong.

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