Nearly every state has statutes known as “Parental Responsibility Laws.” These laws make parents and/or guardians liable for any injuries or damage their unemancipated children cause through their intentional and/or malicious actions, and parental liability is also imposed for accidents in some cases. The types of damage parents and guardians may be responsible for include property damage (including vandalism), personal injuries, and stealing. In addition, these laws (in most states) apply not only to civil actions, but to criminal conduct as well. This article will discuss parental responsibility laws generally, and will outline some of the key specifics of Florida’s parental responsibility laws.
(Note: There is some debate about the fairness of parental responsibility laws. Some question the fairness of punishing parents for the actions of their children. However, the alternative is that a victim bears the financial burden of a child’s wrongful actions.)
Florida, like a number of other states, has passed laws that spell out when parents will be responsible for the actions of their children. Specifically, Florida’s Parental Responsibility Laws focus on two areas:
Parental responsibility laws only hold parents and legal guardians liable for certain actions of minor children. A minor, by definition, is any person who is under the age of majority. This age is defined differently from state to state. Florida, like most states, sets the age of majority at 18, so the Florida statutes we’ll be discussing here only apply when a child is under the age of 18.
In Florida, a parent or guardian of a minor must sign and verify the minor's application for a driver's license. Along with each application, the parent or guardian must submit a certified copy of a U.S. birth certificate, a valid U.S. passport, an alien registration receipt card (green card), an employment authorization card issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, or proof of nonimmigrant classification.
In addition, Florida Statutes section 322.09 makes clear that the parent or guardian will be responsible if their child causes any injuries or property through his or her negligence and/or willful misconduct while operating a motor vehicle. In other words, the adult is jointly financially responsible -- along with the minor -- for all damages the minor causes through negligence or willful misconduct while driving. That means the parent shares liability for everything from a fender bender in a parking lot to a drunk driving accident that causes serious injury to other drivers and passengers.
If a minor commits vandalism or theft in Florida -- or as Florida Statutes section 741.24 defines it, if a minor “maliciously or willfully destroys or steals property, real, personal, or mixed” -- and the minor lives with his or her parents, the parents will be financially responsible. This responsibility extends to almost every person or entity who could be harmed by the minor’s conduct, including municipal corporations, counties, school districts, people, partnerships, corporations, or religious organizations. It is important to note that the parents’ liability is limited to the amount of actual damages, plus court costs. In other words, there can be no recovery for pain and suffering or other non-economic harm connected with the minor’s conduct.
Parental Responsibility Laws often focus on providing specific remedies for specific actions; however, there are also common law rules that can generally hold parents responsible for the actions of their children. For example, 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 talks on the cell phone while driving, and does everything except pay attention to the road. Nonetheless, the parents allow their child to operate a vehicle. If that child causes an accident because he or she was distracted by talking on the phone, the parents could be considered negligent for allowing the child to drive. Even in cases where Florida’s Parental Responsibility Laws do not apply, parents may find themselves on the financial hook for their children’s actions.
For more information, check out the Basics of Parental Responsibility Laws.