A Parent’s Liability on Accidents Caused by Their Children

Injuries and accidents involving children can happen anytime. Often, parents are legally liable for the mishaps caused by their children, including  car accidents caused by their minor child.

Before you hand your car to your teenage child, make sure you know your liabilities in case of an accident. Every state has laws, rules, and regulations regarding parental liability.

Parental Responsibility Law 

Laws in the United States require a certain level of parental responsibility for the conduct of their children. States have imposed criminal and civil liability on parents who are negligent in taking care and supervising their children. The law usually applies to intentional acts committed by the children.

The rationale behind the law is that the parents have the legal duty to take steps in supervising their minor children. When parents fail to fulfill this obligation, and the minor child causes harm and injury to other people or their property, they will be held liable.

States have different laws about Parental Responsibility. For instance, the California Civil Code provides that any willful misconduct of a minor child resulting in the death or injury of another shall be ascribed to the parent or guardian for purposes of civil damages. The parent or guardian is jointly liable with the child for the payment of damages not exceeding $25,000 per wrongful act.

Meanwhile, under the New York General Obligations,  parents or guardians are responsible for their minor children’s actions. However, the New York Law has set that the child must be 10-18 years old for the parent or guardian to be held responsible. A foster parent, however, is not responsible for the acts of the minor child.  

The Georgia Code, on the other hand, provides that the parents are liable for any tort that the child commits. A tort is a legal term for any act that results in harm. There is no distinction whether the act was committed intentionally or through negligence for purposes of parental liability. The same Code also provides for the financial responsibility for property damage and personal injury due to car accidents.

The Texas Family Code provides that there is a potential liability to a person who has the duty and authority for reasonable discipline and control over a child. The liability can be on the child’s parent or can extend to the legal custodian or guardian of the child. The parent or guardian is responsible for property damage only. Seek the advice of an attorney in the area where the accident occurred, as each state has different laws governing parental responsibility.

Family Purpose Doctrine 

The Family Purpose Doctrine provides that the liability over the car accident should be borne by the person who owns the family car. The registered owner of the car is liable even though other members of the family caused the accident.

Here, the owner becomes the principal, and the driver is regarded merely as an agent whose actions are attributed to the owner. The rationale for this doctrine is that the usage of the car was for a family purpose, whether the car was driven by a member of the family with or without permission from the owner.

Limitations of Parental Liability 

Generally, the parent is not liable automatically for the car accident caused by their children. However, a parent or guardian may be liable if there is a failure to supervise the child, the parent was negligent in entrusting the car to the child, and when the car was used under the family purpose doctrine.

The liability of the parent depends on whether the action was criminal or civil. For criminal actions, the person who did the act- the child- is liable criminally. In a civil action for damages, the parent may be liable, together with the child, for the act committed by the child.

Parental liability usually does not apply to children below ten years of age. This is because there is a presumption that children below ten years old are legally incapable of negligence because they are deemed too young to know better.

Aside from the child being below ten years old, parental liability also ceases when the child reaches the age of legality. The child is considered an adult if they reach 18 years old. During this age, the child already knows the concept of negligence and the concept of what is right or wrong.

Each state also has different laws and rules regarding parental liability. Some states allow underage driving, while some limit the parents’ monetary responsibility according to the kind of damage the child has done. An example is California, where the parent is jointly responsible along with the child for the amount not exceeding $25,000 per wrongful act.


Accidents can happen anytime. It’s unfortunate if a minor child is involved and was the cause of the car accident. When this happens, the parent or the guardian is responsible for such actions. Make sure that you know your rights and responsibilities as a parent when such a problem arises. Seek the help of a lawyer to protect your rights.