Children & Teenagers Do Stupid Things – But Are You Liable?
With Stay At Home Orders constantly extending, many of us are running out of enjoyable things to do (except for those who recently picked up a bread making hobby – good for you!) One question you might want to ask during this time, is what is your child doing? Everyone knows that kids and teenagers can do stupid things, but did you know that parents can actually be financially liable for these stupid things? In Colorado and many other states, there are parental responsibility laws that make parents financially liable in the case of their minor children causing damage or shoplifting. Juvenile crime is well known to increase in the summer when kids are no longer kept busy with school work. And since this epidemic has shut down schools for months, there is a potential for juvenile free time to increase, with financial woes from parents to follow.
When Are Parents Responsible?
Parents are not responsible for everything their children do. However, they can be financially responsible if their child causes property damage, bodily injuries, or shoplifts. Parents can also be considered negligent if they are aware their child engages in careless or reckless activities, and fails to take reasonable steps to prevent them. In both of these situations, the children must be under the age of 18 and un-emancipated in order for the parents to be liable. These rules apply to both parents and other legal guardians.
Property Damage or Injury
Parents can be responsible if their minor child maliciously, or willfully, damages or destroys another’s property. This can be any type of property:
- “Real” property, which is fixed property such as land and buildings
- “Personal” property, which is moveable property such as furniture and vehicles
- Property with all types of owners, such as individuals, local and federal government, school districts, corporations, or other organizations
As you can see, this law applies to a wide range of situations. One limit on this rule is that parents are only liable for the actual amount of damages up to $3,500. This is in addition to reimbursing the property owner for court costs and attorney fees incurred while bringing the matter to court. Likewise, parents can be liable for bodily injuries their child causes up to $3,500 plus court costs and attorney fees. While the limit is set at $3,500, this amount is per victim. So if the minor damages several vehicles, the parents could be liable up to $3,500 for each car owner.
Parents can also be responsible if their child is caught shoplifting. In this case, parents are responsible for the actual damages, or value, of the property. There is no limit to this amount, such as with property damage or injury. Additionally, there could be a penalty that must be paid to the property owner. It’s easy to see how one carless decision by a teenager can cause serious financial strain on parents!
There are other situations where the parents can be responsible for their child’s actions. If the parent is aware their child commits specific careless or reckless activities, they could be liable if they fail to take reasonable steps to prevent the child from causing harm. This could apply to a wide range of situations. One common example of this is in the case of auto accidents. If a parent is aware that their child frequently speeds, does not check blind spots, or commits other dangerous driving offenses and does not take measures to prevent this behavior, they could be liable in the case of a crash and bodily injury. This liability will be imputed to the person who signed the affidavit or liability, which is associated with the application for a driver’s license.
While auto accidents are one of the more frequent cases, this could apply in many other situations where the parents knows of reckless or careless behavior and fails to act. And while these are the current laws in Colorado, many other states have similar, or even stricter rules. In some states, parents can be liable if their children bullies others, commits a bias offense (hate crime), misuses a firearm, and plenty of other situations.
Need Legal Help?
We are well aware that children can make stupid mistakes! We believe these mistakes should not follow the minor for life, or cause undue financial hardship on the parent. If you are in need of legal help, consider reaching out to Nicol Gersch Petterson for a free 30-minute consultation. Find more information at https://NicolGerschLaw.Com or call 970.670.0378.
IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: This blog post does not create an attorney-client relationship. It’s a blog post and not legal advice. Each case is different, and this post is meant for generalized knowledge, only. If you haven’t signed an engagement letter (or even received an engagement letter) AND issued some form of payment (peanuts do not count), then no attorney-client relationship exists. Nevertheless, we will do our best to ensure your confidentiality should you choose to contact us privately, but please do not post about your case in the comments here.
If you have done both of the things mentioned earlier–signed a letter and paid us–then, and only then do you establish an attorney/client relationship. If you are uncertain about this, you should probably ask us for some clarity. Until then, we’ll keep your secrets but we don’t formally represent you… YET.