Almost all states have statutes known as "parental responsibility laws," which impose financial liability on parents and/or guardians for harm and damage caused by their unemancipated children. Depending on the specifics of the state's law, parents may be liable for the intentional acts of their children, and may even be on the financial hook for accidents caused by a minor child. The types of damage parents and guardians may be responsible for usually include property damage (including vandalism), personal injuries, and losses from theft (though again, state laws vary).
This article will outline some of the key specifics of Arizona's parental responsibility laws.
Arizona's parental responsibility law can be found at Arizona Revised Statutes section 12-661; Liabilities of parents or legal guardians for malicious or wilful misconduct of minors.
Parental responsibility laws only hold parents and guardians responsible for certain actions taken by minor children. A minor, by definition, is any person under the age of majority. This age is defined differently from state to state. Arizona, like most states, sets the age of majority at 18. So, the Arizona statutes discussed below only apply when a child is under the age of 18.
Parents or guardians whose minor children cause property damage, or bodily injury, through malicious or wilful misconduct, will be held responsible under Arizona Revised Statutes, Section 12-661.
Shoplifting and theft are included within the definition of "property damage."
Liability under Arizona's parental responsibility statute takes the form of "strict liability." That means it does not matter whether the parents or guardians had any reason to anticipate the minor's misconduct. If a minor maliciously or wilfully hurts someone or damages someone's property in Arizona, the parents or guardians will be responsible under section 12-661.
Under section 12-661, parents and guardians are jointly and severally liable for all damages the minor causes. This means the parents/guardians and minor are collectively and individually responsible, i.e. the injured party can collect from any or all of them via a civil lawsuit.
In general, the minor's parent/guardian is responsible for the actual damages caused. However, liability is limited to $10,000 for each wrongful act of the minor. It is important to bear in mind, that if another statute imposes liability for the minor's actions, Arizona's parental responsibility statute imposes liability in addition to the liability imposed by the other statute.
"Actual damages" means all quantifiable losses stemming from the minor's actions, including payment of medical bills and lost income for personal injuries, and payment to replace or repair damaged property. But "actual damages" excludes non-economic losses like pain and suffering, which can really add up in a lawsuit over serious injuries. Bottom line: Parents can't be sued for non-economic damages under section 12-661.
Arizona Revised Statutes, Section 12-661 does not limit an insurer's right to exclude coverage for a minor's actions. For example, a minor could cause damage that would be within the scope of coverage under a home or auto policy if caused negligently. However, coverage may be excluded, under the policy, if the same damages are caused wilfully or maliciously. Arizona's Parental Responsibility Statute does take away the insurer's right to deny coverage.
Parents and guardians can be responsible for their minor's actions even in cases where Arizona's parental responsibility laws do not apply. Parents have a duty, at common law, to prevent their children from causing harm in certain situations. For example, when a parent knows that their child has a propensity to act recklessly or carelessly, the parent may be expected to take reasonable steps to prevent that child from causing foreseeable harm to others.
Suppose a parent knows that their child buys fireworks and lights them without taking precaution for the safety of others. So the parent is on notice of this kind of behavior, but fails to do anything to stop it. If the child then causes an accident by recklessly lighting off fireworks, the parent could be considered negligent for failing to take reasonable steps to control the child's behavior. Learn more about Negligence and the Duty of Care.