Parental Responsibility Laws in Hawaii

Understanding a parent or legal guardian's potential liability for a minor's "willful misconduct" or negligence in Hawaii.

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Hawaii, like most states, has passed a number of “parental responsibility laws,” which can be used to hold parents and guardians civilly liable for damages that their unemancipated children cause. Depending on the state, these laws can apply to a minor's intentional, reckless, and sometimes negligent actions. The damages that a parent or guardian might be responsible for could include property damage (including effects of vandalism), personal injuries, and losses caused by theft.

In this article, we'll focus on some of the key details of Hawaii’s various parental responsibility laws.

What are Hawaii’s Parental Responsibility Laws?

Hawaii has passed three separate statutes that relate to parental responsibility for kids' conduct. These laws cover general tort liability, damages caused while driving, and property damage:

How Young Must the Child Be Under Hawaii Law?

Parental responsibility laws only hold parents and legal guardians liable for certain actions of minor children. Hawaii, like most states, sets the age of majority at 18, so the laws discussed below only apply when a child is under the age of 18.

Parental Responsibility for a Child's Torts in Hawaii

Hawaii Revised Statutes, Section 577-3 imposes liability on parents for the actions of their minor children. Specifically, parents of unmarried minor children are jointly and severally liable for tortious acts their children commit. "Jointly and severally liable" means the parent/guardian and the minor child are collectively, and independently, liable for all of the damages caused. In other words, the injured person can collect damages from one, or all, of the responsible parties.

This is a very expansive law. It essentially makes parents and legal guardians "strictly liable" for the damages that result from any kind of accident caused by their minor child, including car accidents, slip and fall incidents, and other common mishaps.

Parental Responsibility for a Child's Driving in Hawaii

Under Hawaii Revised Statutes, Section 286-112, a minor's application for an instruction permit, provisional license, or driver's license has to be signed by one of the following:

  • both the father and the mother (if both have custody)
  • the custodial parent (if only one parent has custody)
  • the custodial guardian (if neither parent has custody), or
  • the minor's employer or another responsible person willing to assume responsibility (if neither a parent, nor guardian, has custody).

Any negligence, or misconduct, by the minor while driving a vehicle will be imputed to the person who signed the minor's application. The person becomes jointly and severally liable with the minor child for any damages caused by the minor's misconduct. Again, Hawaii law in this area is pretty far-reaching, and it can have serious financial implications for parents whose child causes a serious car accident.

Parental Responsibility for a Child's Graffiti in Hawaii

Hawaii's parental responsibility laws are also pretty strict when it comes to graffiti. In Hawaii, parents or guardians are responsible, jointly and severally, for any graffiti damage caused by a minor child.

"Graffiti," as defined by Hawaii Revised Statutes, Section 577-3.5, is "any unauthorized drawing, inscription, figure, or marking created by paint, ink, chalk, dye, or similar substance." If a minor is found responsible for graffiti in Hawaii, the minor, the parents, or the guardian must remove the graffiti from the damaged property within 60 days, or pay the cost of having the property repaired or replaced. In addition, the minor must perform a minimum of 80 hours of community service to remove graffiti from other properties.

Parents and Guardians in Hawaii May Still Be Liable Under Common Law

As broad as Hawaii's parental responsibility laws are, parents and guardians can be responsible for their minor's actions even in cases where these laws do not apply. A parent who knows that their child has a propensity to act recklessly or carelessly may, generally speaking, be expected to take reasonable steps to prevent that child from causing foreseeable harm to others.

Suppose a parent knows that their child has a habit of buying fireworks and lighting them without taking precaution for the safety of others. If the parent allows this kind of behavior to go on, and the child ends of causing injury to someone, the parent could be considered negligent. Learn more about Negligence and the Duty of Care.

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