Thursday, September 1, 2016

Are Parents Legally Responsible for Injuries Caused by their Children?

When a toddler in Cincinnati ran away from their parents and into a gorilla exhibit, ultimately resulting in the death of a gorilla named Harambe, a nation-wide discussion broke out1 over who was responsible. Many people blamed the parents for not properly watching their child, attesting that there was no reason for the child to be unattended for any period of time. Others came to the defense of the parents indicating that children easily can slip away within a matter of seconds. Regardless of what side of the argument you fall on, it is safe to say that children are full of surprises and leave questions of liability wide open.
From toddlers to teenagers, minors are often the cause of injury or property damage. While most of the time gorillas are not involved, just as in the zoo debate, the parties will often dispute the parent’s liability for the child’s actions. Florida law automatically implicates parents in the following settings by statute:
  • Driving
  • Vandalism

In other situations, the court will analyze the parent’s knowledge and actions to determine if they should be liable for the damages.
According to Florida Statute 322.09,2 before children are allowed to drive they must have a responsible adult sign an application. Minors are not able to receive their license or permit without an adult signing the application. The application indicates that the signer will assume financial responsibility for accidents that are caused by the negligence or willful misconduct of the minor while driving that results in auto accidents. That responsible adult is usually the minor’s parents. Once the application is signed, the parents are automatically responsible regardless of any negligence on their part or even knowledge of the child’s actions.
In the case of driving, the question is very simple. Who signed the child’s application? Once that person is identified, they are jointly responsible for the damages which occur while the child is driving.
According to Florida Statute 741.24,3 parents are automatically liable to any person, business, or government agency for the following actions performed by any child under the age of 18 who is living at home:
  • Malicious or willful destruction of property
  • Malicious or willful theft of property

If a minor who is living at home steals or destroys virtually any property from anyone, their parents will be financially responsible for the value of the property. The liability is limited to the actual value of the property lost or damaged and any court costs; however, there is no requirement on the parents to have previously signed something as in the case of the driving statute.
Like the driving statute, the question is very simple. Is the child who destroyed or took the property under 18 and living at home? If so, then the child’s parents are liable for the cost of the property.

All Other Circumstances
In all other circumstances, the liability of the parents requires more proof. There is no other statute which places automatic liability on the parents of a child, so court decisions must be used to analysis each individual circumstance. Parents have a certain level of control over their children. Thus, if courts determine that the parents knew of their child’s propensity to act dangerously or recklessly, but failed to take steps to discipline the child or otherwise prevent the action, the courts may find the parents liable. Each case is more subjective and there is no exact formula which a court will follow to determine the level of knowledge or the preventative actions needed to assign liability.
These circumstances are more akin to what occurred in the Cincinnati Zoo. There will be arguments for and against the parents, but the argument that establishes the most knowledge and the least preventative measures will win. For example, imagine if the parents knew that the child always climbed into cages or exhibits every time they were in zoos or museums and, despite knowing this, they never took any actions to prevent the child’s behavior. In this situation, a court might find that the parents have some liability for injuries caused by the child. On the other hand, if this was the first time the child ran away, or if the parents knew of the child’s propensity to run away and talked to the child or made a conscious effort to always hold on to the child, then the court may find that instance was an accident against which the parents were powerless to prevent. There is definitely a grey area, and a mastery of the facts and argument is the key to making the parents financially responsible.
If You Have Been Injured by a Minor, Contact a St. Petersburg Personal Injury Attorney for a Free Consultation.
Assigning liability for injuries caused by minors can be an involved process. The experienced St. Petersburg, FL personal injury lawyers at Dolman Law Group understand the laws which allow assigning blame to the parents of the minor. Contact us today to see how we can maximize your judgment award.
Dolman Law Group
1663 1st Ave S.
St. Petersburg, FL 33712
(727) 222-6922

1 comment:

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