Who Is Liable for Injuries Caused by a Child?
Children are generally granted a large amount of leeway when it comes to comes to holding them responsible for their actions. The law recognizes that children do not possess the cognitive ability to understand the consequences of their actions in many instances, and as a result, they are rarely held personally liable if someone is injured by their actions. However, parents are expected to guide and control the behavior of their child, and parents can be found potentially liable in a personal injury lawsuit for injuries caused by their child. Both common law and Florida statutory law impose a legal responsibility on parents to account for the actions of their children. The law is especially stringent when it comes to the supervision of a parent over a child’s driving. A recent news story highlights the possible tragic results of allowing children to engage in this activity without proper adult oversight. An eight-year-old boy died in a Tallahassee hospital after being struck by a golf cart driven by an 11-year-old. No adult was in the cart filled with a total of four children, and Florida’s minimum age for legally operating a golf cart is 14. The driver’s parents now face potential civil and criminal consequences. An overview of when Florida law transfers liability to a parent for a child’s actions will follow below.
How Long Can Parents Be Liable?
Generally, until a child reaches the age of majority, 18 in Florida and most states, a parent can be legally responsible for the child’s acts. Once the child becomes a legal adult, that liability is gone, and child is fully accountable for any act that harms another person. A parent can also be released from legal responsibility before a child turns 18 if the child petitions for emancipation, which grants the child all the rights, privileges and obligations of an adult, and releases the parents from legal obligations.
Statutory Law – Minors Driving
Florida law specifically assigns parents liability for the negligent or intentionally reckless actions of their child in one very important instance – driving. When a minor applies for a driver’s license, the Department of Motor Vehicles will not issue it unless the child’s parent or guardian is willing to assume personal responsibility for the child’s conduct, and agrees to be held jointly liable if the minor driver injures someone in a car accident. This means that if a driver under 18 hits another car and causes the other driver serious injury, the minor’s parents can be sued and forced to compensate the injured driver. There is no dollar limit on how much a parent can be ordered to pay, and while the minor can be held legally responsible for injury as well, it is really the parents who will have to pay any damage award.
Common Law – Accidents Generally
In addition to statutory law, common law, which is created by court decisions, generally holds parents accountable for injuries caused by their child. Parental responsibility is more likely to be imposed if a parent knew about a child’s propensity for engaging in behavior that created a risk of injury to other people, such as driving at night without headlights, and did not take reasonable steps to prevent harm to others. Basically, an injured party would have to prove that the parents should have reasonably foreseen the possibility of injury based on the child’s dangerous tendencies, and that other parents in a similar position would have realized the risk presented by the child.
Get Legal Advice
If you or a loved one was injured due to the negligent actions of a child, do not assume the parents bear no legal responsibility. Talk to a personal injury attorney to learn if you have a legal claim to sue for negligence. Parental responsibility cases are very fact specific, but the experienced Miami personal injury law firm Pita Weber & Del Prado will know if you have grounds to take legal action. Contact us for a free consultation.