Parental Responsibility Laws in Texas
An in-depth look at Texas Family Code section 41.001 and a parent's liability for property damage caused by a child.
Texas, like most states, has passed a law that makes parents civilly liable for some acts committed by their children. The Texas statute we’ll be discussing here only imposes parental responsibility for property damage (not personal injury) in certain situations. We’ll explain the ins and outs of this law in the sections below, but it’s important to keep in mind that parental liability could arise in a number of other scenarios that fall outside the purview of this particular statute.
Who is Potentially Liable Under the Texas Law?
Texas Family Code section 41.001 imposes potential liability on “a parent or other person who has the duty of control and reasonable discipline of a child.” So, liability could extend to a legal guardian in some situations.
When Does Liability Arise Under the Texas Law?
Section 41.001 makes a parent liable for property damage only. The statute does not cover liability for personal injury or other kinds of harm caused by a child’s actions.
The first part of the statute makes a parent liable when a child’s negligent conduct results in property damage, and that conduct is reasonably attributable to the negligent failure of the parent to exercise their “duty of control and reasonable discipline” of the child. (Learn more about Negligence and the Duty of Care.) Note that this part of the statute imposes liability on a parent regardless of the child’s age, as long as he or she is a minor under the age of 18.
The second part of the statute makes a parent liable “when the wilful and malicious conduct of a child” results in property damage. The parent’s liability is capped at $25,000 in “actual damages,” plus the other party’s “court costs and reasonable attorney's fees.” Note that this second part of the statute requires the child to act with some level of purpose or intent -- in other words, it doesn’t apply to straight accidents. This part of the statute also does not apply to the conduct of all children across the board, only to those who are at least 10 years old but under the age of 18.
Parents May Be Liable Beyond the Texas Statute
As we touched on in the introduction, parents in Texas should not assume that they are free and clear from civil liability as long as their child’s actions do not fall within what is covered by these statutes. That’s not the case. Parents can still be considered liable and could face a personal injury lawsuit as a result of injuries caused by their child’s careless or intentional actions, under traditional “common law” principles of liability. For example, if a Texas parent knows that their child has a propensity to engage in certain reckless or careless conduct, that parent may have a legal duty to take reasonable steps to prevent the child from causing foreseeable harm to others.
Learn more about Accidents and Injuries Involving Children.