Nearly every state has some form of a “parental responsibility law," which makes parents and/or guardians liable for injuries or damages that their children cause through their intentional actions. Parental liability is also imposed for accidents in some states. Depending on the specifics of the law, the different types of damage that parents and guardians may be responsible for property damage (including vandalism), personal injuries, and theft.
This article will outline some of the key specifics of Connecticut’s parental responsibility laws.
Connecticut's parental responsibility statute is found at Connecticut General Statutes section 52-572. It describes, specifically, when parents or guardians can be held financially responsible for the acts of their children -- and what the penalties are.
In Connecticut, a parent or guardian (except for a temporary guardian) of an unemancipated minor will be responsible if their minor child willfully or maliciously causes property damage or bodily injury to another.
Connecticut courts have defined "willful and malicious injury" as the kind that is "inflicted intentionally without just cause or excuse." But it is also not enough "that the act resulting in the injury was intentional in the sense that it was the voluntary action of the person involved." Rogers v. Doody, 119 Conn. 532 (1935).
Parents or guardians in Connecticut will also be held jointly liable if their minor child takes a motor vehicle without permission from the owner, and causes damage to the vehicle. This means that the parent/guardian and the minor child can be collectively or independently liable for all of the damages caused.
In other words, the property owner can collect damages from one, or all, of the responsible parties. For purposes of this rule, damage is not limited to actual harm to the vehicle. Under the statute, "damage" may be defined as depriving the owner of the use, possession, or enjoyment of the owner's property.
Under Connecticut's parental responsibility law (Connecticut Gen. Stat. Section 52-572), liability for parents/guardians is limited to $5,000. Note: This law imposes liability on parents and guardians. It does not remove liability from unemancipated minors.
It is also important to note that Connecticut courts have interpreted the statute to mean that the action producing the injury, and the resulting injury, must be intentional. In other words, the minor must intentionally act to cause the specific injury that results, or an injury that is substantially certain to follow the minor's actions. Accordingly, a Connecticut court has ruled that when a minor took a car and drove it recklessly, there was not a valid claim that the minor had willfully and maliciously injured the vehicle owner.
Even in cases where Connecticut’s parental responsibility laws do not apply, parents may find themselves on the financial hook for their children’s actions.
Parental responsibility laws often focus on providing specific remedies for specific actions. However, additional guidance comes from Restatement of Torts (a "secondary" source which is often looked to as authority by courts when no specific state law applies to a given situation).
Section 316 of the Restatement (Second) provides: "A parent is under a duty to exercise reasonable care so as to control his minor child as to prevent it from intentionally harming others or from so conducting itself as to create an unreasonable risk of bodily harm to them, if the parent (a) knows or has reason to know that he has the ability to control his child, and (b) knows of or should know of the necessity and opportunity of exercising such control." In other words, parents who know their child has a propensity to act recklessly or carelessly may, generally, be expected to take reasonable steps to prevent that child from causing foreseeable harm to others.
Suppose a parent knows that their child is an inattentive driver because he or she talks or texts on the cell phone incessantly while driving. In spite of this knowledge, the parent allows his or her child to drive a vehicle. If that child causes an accident because he or she was talking or texting on the phone, the parent could be considered negligent for allowing the child to drive.