Almost every state has some sort of parental responsibility law that holds parents or legal guardians responsible for property damage, personal injury, theft, shoplifting, and/or vandalism resulting from intentional or willful acts of their unemancipated children.
There has been an increasing number of horrific incidents of school violence due to bullying. These events have greatly affected students’ academic performance as well as physical and psychological personalities. School districts face impounding legal risks when they fail to adequately remedy bullying. But what about the parents? Can parents be responsible if their child is involved in bullying? Or any intentional act against another person? What if the child is operating a vehicle? Is liability imputed on the parent in the event of an auto accident?
The short answer: Yes. Parental responsibility laws, also known as parental liability laws, are a vehicle by which parents are held accountable for at least a minimal amount of damaged caused by their child as a result of intentional acts. Each state has its own statute that contains certain conditions or limits attaching parental liability to a certain dollar limit.
Pennsylvania’s parental liability laws, pursuant to the Parental Liability Act, allow a victim to bring a civil suit directly to the parent(s) of the child who committed the tortious act. Specifically, Section 5502 of the Pennsylvania Code provides that any parent whose child is found liable or is deemed guilty of a tortious act shall be liable to the victim. The negligence imputed on the parent applies to both natural and adoptive parents for any individual under the age of 18. Liability is not imposed on those parents who, at the time of the commission of the tortious act, neither had custody of the child nor were entitled to custody of the child. However, parents who desert their child are not absolved under this exception.
The Code further provides a monetary limitation on this liability. Generally, liability is limited to $1000 for one victim, or $2,500 for more than one victim. In the event the victim’s actual loss exceeds $2500, the parent’s $2500 payments discharges the parent from further liability.
A Minor’s Acts While Driving A Car without a License
Pennsylvania courts have held that a minor’s operation of an unlicensed vehicle on the highway resulting in an accident is a “willful tort,” rendering the minor’s parents liable. However, there is an important caveat. As the above mentioned Pennsylvania Law states, the child must be found liable or adjudged guilty in order for the parents to be liable. If it is found that the child is not responsible or liable for the damage, the liability cannot be imputed on the parent. For example, if the victim failed to stop at a stop sign, which resulted in the auto accident, the minor’s obvious violation of driving without a license will not impose liability. The minor’s delinquent driving was not the legal cause of the accident.
Common Law Duty
It is important to note that state parental liability statutes do not abrogate a parent’s common law duty to prevent their child with dangerous propensities from committing foreseeable acts and damages. Simply being a parent does not make a parent liable for their child’s tortuous acts. Rather parents are more at risk when they are aware and know that their child poses a threat, and fail to take reasonable steps to control the child’s behavior. Parents should not turn a blind eye to their children’s bad behavior.
If you or someone you know has been injured as a result of an accident with a minor, you may be able to recover despite the person’s young age. Contact Solnick & Associates today.
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