Do you think that parents should be held responsible for their child’s negligent conduct? I think that you would be surprised to hear that in most circumstances parents are not liable for their children’s tortious conduct.
The fact that you are a child’s biological mother/father or the child’s legal guardian does not create parental personal liability for the damages or injuries that your child may cause. In fact, a parent will only become liable for the tort of his/her child if one of the four circumstances is present:
(1) Where a parent intrusts his child with an instrumentality which, because of lack of age, judgment, or experience of child, may become a source of danger to others;
This can be easily described in an example. Say you wake up one morning and tell yourself that little Johnny is ready to begin using the lawnmower to cut the yard. This will give you that extra hour of sleep that you have been so desperately needing. Little Johnny just turned seven (7) last weekend and is excited to try something new. You fill the lawnmower with gas, give him a brief lesson on he controls and tell him good luck. Within five minutes, you hear groan and a crying child. Apparently, Johnny has decided to operate the lawnmower in Mr. Wilson’s yard, the neighbor. Unfortunately, Johnny got a little too close to Mr. Wilson’s foot.
In this scenario, a parent has intrusted an instrumentality to a child that lacked the required age, judgment and experience to operate said instrumentality. This is obvious. What about allowing your ten year old or fourteen year old. There is some gray area that can be created as you alter the facts of the claim.
Bottom line, use common sense when giving your kid the “keys to the kingdom”! Don’t assume that your child won’t run that jet ski full bore the first time that he/she uses it!
(2) Where a child, in the commission of a tortious act, is occupying relationship of servant or agent of his parents;
This particular scenario is a bit harder to identify. If you don’t know the terms servant or agent, we are not talking about a slave or secret spy. Even though both an agent and servant are used to act on behalf of another person, there are differences.
An agent is a representative of you (i.e. parent). An agent has the authority to establish relationships and is not under the direct control or supervision of the principal (i.e. parent). Typically, the principal (i.e. parent) is only liable for the acts of the agent that are within the scope of authority given to the agent.
Example: You tell your fifteen (15) year old child to go down to the pawn store and sell your coveted 100 lb dumb bells. As the child is trying to open the pawn shop door without setting down both dumbbells, he drops one of the weights on Auntie M’s pinkie tow. Because your child was in the acting as your agent and within the course and scope of his assignment, you will be held responsible for Auntie M’s broken pinkie toe.
The designation of a servant is very similar, but not the same. A servant still represent the master (i.e. parent); however, the servant does not have the authority that an agent would have in similar circumstances. A servant acts under the direct control or supervision of the master (i.e. parent) and is bound to carry out all reasonable orders given to him.
(3) Where parent knows of child’s wrongdoing and consents to it, directs, or sanctions it; or
This is the classic situation where a father tells his young son not to put up with the remarks made by various kids at school and directs the child to use some of those newly acquired MMA fighting techniques to quiet the others once and for all. That parent will be held liable for those dislocated joints, broken bones and other injuries caused by the child.
(4) Where parent fails to exercise his parental control over child, though he knows or in exercise of due care should have known that injury to another was a probable consequence.
We all know that children will be children and get into trouble. In some situations a parent should just know that the exercise of due care would require more supervision, restrictions, and limitations of his/her child so that injury to others may be avoided.
Example: If you allow your 150 lb ten (10) year old child to recklessly and carelessly run through and around a section of the playground that is, obviously, dedicated to toddlers, in reasonable to foresee that your child is likely to cause severe injury to a much small and defenseless child.
All and all, be involved in your child’s life. Ask questions about what they are doing and how they planned to do things. If you feel uncomfortable, you better limit your child’s activities until that child has reached an appropriate age or has gained the necessary experience/judgment.
If you believe you have been injured by a child, you may have a claim against the child’s parents. In such events, please feel free to contact the personal injury attorney’s at Brannon & Brannon for a free consultation.