While it is not nearly as far-reaching as the parental responsibility laws in place in other states, Alabama has a statute on the books that makes parents and legal guardians financially liable for certain actions taken by their children. In this article, we'll break down the key aspects of this law.
You'll find Alabama's parental responsibility law at Code of Alabama section 6-5-380. This law can be used to hold a parent, legal guardian, or other person liable for certain acts taken by a minor (a "minor" being a person who is under 18 years of age) when:
Key exception: Foster parents aren't liable for the actions of their foster children in Alabama.
Section 6-5-380 makes the parent or guardian liable for the "injury to, or destruction of" someone else's property—real or personal property—caused by the intentional, willful, or malicious act or acts of the minor.
So, this law can be used only to hold a parent or guardian liable when a child does something on purpose to cause property damage. Mere carelessness or negligence is not enough to trigger liability. So, a parent or guardian would not be liable under this law for vehicle damage resulting from a car accident caused by a minor. But the statute would apply to acts of vandalism like graffiti, or throwing rocks through windows.
This is where the limits of Alabama's parental responsibility law are most apparent. Section 6-5-380 makes clear that parents and others are on the financial hook for "actual damages" resulting from harm to property, but only for an amount that cannot exceed $1,000.
So, even if the minor's conduct ends up causing a significant amount of damage to property, the owner of the property would still only be able to collect $1,000 from the parent or guardian (although the statute also makes the parent or guardian liable for the harmed party's costs of taking the matter to court, and those costs are not a part of the $1,000 limit).
Section 6-5-380 may not represent the limit of a parent or guardian's potential liability for a minor child's conduct in Alabama.
Liability for a child's actions may still exist under traditional fault theories like negligence. Basically, a parent may be liable for any resulting harm if they know of their child's dangerous tendencies, yet they fail to take reasonable steps to properly supervise the child, and someone ends up getting injured in a way that was foreseeable. (Learn more about Negligence and the Duty of Care.)