Parental Responsibility Laws in Ohio

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

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Under parental responsibility laws that are on the books in most states, parents may find themselves financially responsible for damages and injuries their minor children cause. Often the minor's actions must be intentional or malicious, but sometimes parents will be on the hook when a minor causes a car accident. The specifics vary from state to state. Read on for the details of Ohio's parental responsibility laws.

What are Ohio's Parental Responsibility Laws?

Ohio's Parental Responsibility Laws focus on four (4) areas:

A minor, by definition, is anyone who has not reached the age of majority. Ohio, like most states, sets the age of majority at 18, so the laws discussed below apply only when a child is under the age of 18.

Parental Liability for Property Damage/Theft in Ohio

Under Section 3109.09, a parent (or legal guardian) can be liable for up to $10,000, plus reimbursement of the claimant's cost of taking the matter to court, if a minor in the parent's custody willfully damages property belonging to another.

This law applies to property damage -- and theft. One side note: The $10,000 limit on compensatory damages does not apply to certain acts that constitute vandalism, desecration, or ethnic intimidation (more on those later).

If a court enters judgment in favor of a school, under Section 3109.09, and the parent and school agree, the court may order the parent to perform community service in lieu of making full payment on the judgment. If a court goes this route, it must specify in its order the amount of the judgment and the type and number of hours of community service to be performed.

Parental Liability for Personal Injury in Ohio

If a minor child willfully and maliciously assaults someone by means of force that is likely to produce great bodily harm, the parent of the child will be liable to the injured person. "Willful" is a legal term of art that means a person intends the action taken, and may also intend to cause the harm that resulted. As with property damage, liability is limited to $10,000, plus court costs.

Keep in mind that a parent's personal injury liability for a minor child's actions does not extend to accidents caused by the minor, but it would extend to intentional torts like assault.

Parental Liability for Vandalism, Desecration, or Ethnic Intimidation

As mentioned above, there are some cases where the liability limits on parents can be lifted. If a minor child commits an act of vandalism, desecration, or ethnic intimidation, the person who suffers the loss can seek recovery from the offender's parents up to $15,000, plus reimbursement of court-related expenses and attorney's fees.

Under Section 2307.70, a parent and the parent's minor child are jointly and severally liable. In other words, an injured person can seek recovery from the parent and child collectively -- or from either one of them individually.

Parental Liability for a Minor's Driving in Ohio

In Ohio, an adult must sign a minor's application for a driver's license or permit. If a minor child commits an act of negligence, or willful or wanton misconduct, while driving a motor vehicle, the adult who signed the minor's application will be financially responsible for the resulting damage. The minor and the adult are considered jointly and severally liable. Liability of the adult may be avoided by providing proof of financial responsibility, e.g. proof of insurance.

Parents in Ohio May Still Be Liable Under Common Law

Parents may find themselves on the financial hook for their children’s actions even when Ohio's parental responsibility laws do not apply. Typically, these statutes focus on providing specific remedies for specific actions. But under the non-statutory "common law" rules -- which are derived mostly from court decisions handed down over the years -- parents and guardians can be deemed negligent for failing to adequately supervise minor children.

Essentially, parents who know their child has a propensity to act in a dangerous or reckless manner may be expected to take reasonable steps to prevent the child from causing foreseeable harm to others. For more information on general fault principles, check out Negligence, the Duty of Care, and Fault for an Accident.

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