Most parents do not realize the responsibility they have for the actions of their children in the eyes of a court of law. Stating that most parents would be shocked for their liabilities would be a completely fair statement. There is a variety of approaches that a litigating party might take to draw the parents in. While a parent may have been completely disconnected from the action being prosecuted and have no knowledge of the event whatsoever, the parent can find themselves in court.
The stories of children walking into schools with firearms and shooting classmates have made the news with much more frequency in the past few years. The legal age to purchase a handgun in most states is 21, and to buy a rifle you must usually be 18 years old. The horrors of a school shooting ripple throughout the entire country and the resulting tragedy is incomprehensible. If your child takes your weapon and it was not properly secured, the legal consequences can be extensive. Negligence that leads to death is a serious offense.
State laws will vary from one state to another, but most states have a parental liability law. If your child intentionally bullies another child and that child is physically harmed, the damages can be assessed against the parents. While children have protections built into the law, the law will look to hold someone accountable for any wrongdoing.
Bullying has become more than a social phenomenon for discussion as most states look to toughen bullying legislation. The popular opinion is leading the discussion to the conclusion that parents are responsible for their child’s behavior on the internet. When parents condone the actions of their children directly or do not proactively discourage misbehavior, they become culpable. Violence is a type of behavior that cannot be protected by anyone without consequence.
The type of consequences a parent can face when their child gets into a car can be destructive. If a parent’s name is on the title of the car and the child uses that car in a way that causes the death of another, or the destruction of property, most states will allow legal action against the title holder and parent. Legal action can be in the form of criminal prosecution by the government or civil prosecution for damages.
If your child goes to a party and drinks before driving, there are going to be multiple parties at risk of liability. What adult contributed to the delinquency? What adult allowed the party in their home with minors drinking? Did an adult see the child get in the car intoxicated? Did the parent of the child give permission for attendance at a party that they knew would have alcohol? Even if the minor has completely duped their parents there is a risk of liability. Personal injury protection through insurers only covers so much. When the coverage is exhausted, the torts can extend to the personal assets of the parent. If a judgment is awarded to the injured party, it can attach to any personal or real property depending on the particular states laws.
In Your Home
People initiate lawsuits with the hope of either justice or a judgment. The two do not always go together. As a parent, there is a strong likelihood that you will have other children as guests in your home someday. Even though you may not have control over other children that come to your house, you can put yourself in a perilous position. Although your child may not do drugs or have a disreputable character, when you invite another child into your home, you put yourself at risk for the character and behavior of that child. If another child brings drugs to your home and distributes it to another kid in your home what do you do? If another child, as a guest, gets into a fight with another child on your property, what do you do? Consider a less nefarious scenario. What if a child simply trips over their shoelaces and hits their head on the coffee table. What do you do?
Homeowner’s insurance deals with these scenarios all of the time and your coverage may need to be looked at. The law does not always follow common sense logic and gets complicated under legal theory. Personal injury attorneys that focus only in this area of law have found enough business to sustain their practices for years. Some would say you cannot plan against bad luck while others would say the laws are stacked against you. In reality, until you are a victim of circumstances that makes you appreciate the laws on the books you may not give them a second thought.
In Florida, if you promote the sexual performance of a child, you are in violation of the law. If your child takes pictures of illegal sexual acts and they are on your computer with or without your knowledge, the legal battle alone is not only going to be costly, it is going to be traumatic for the family. The liability that the parent has is going to be difficult to disprove.
Parents have to be very careful with monitoring the activities of their children in the modern age. The internet has allowed immediate access to anything that happens in the world for good or for ill. Children are often more computer literate than their parents and can hide or mask their activities. Simply emailing pictures that are illegal through a common portal that the parents use such as their email or social network can make it difficult for the law to prove who the offender was, but it will not end well regardless. The responsibility goes beyond the tort and passes into the criminal. The laws are evolving in this area because of the proliferation of child pornography and the rise in deviant behavior by teens that result in bullying and sometimes suicide. As these laws develop and make their way through the courts the tone of parental responsibility for the actions of their children is going to become even clearer.
To simply state the understanding of a parent’s liability, a parent is nearly as responsible for the act of their child as if they had done the act themselves, although there are exceptions and limitations. A parent is at much less risk of liability for children eight or under or that have reached the age of majority. If a parent is the proximate cause of the actions of the child the whole scenario is going to be explosive and the judge may not show much mercy. With this information, it is easy to see parents have every reason to keep their children under a watchful eye if they want to avoid legal repercussions.
The author, Ray Donato, is a freelance writer specializing in legal analysis in the realms of family law and personal injury law. For any personal injury problems – including personal injury cases you were dragged into as a result of your child’s actions – he highly recommends Orlando area attorney David Heil, P.A.