Parental Responsibility Laws in Florida

Find out when a Florida parent is legally responsible for injuries and property damages caused by their child.

By , Attorney · Cooley Law School
Updated by Dan Ray, Attorney · University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law

As a general rule, the law doesn't hold one person legally responsible for the misconduct of another, unless there's a special relationship between them. The parent-child relationship is one of those special relationships. Many states hold parents liable for personal injuries and property damages caused by their underage kids.

In some situations, Florida imposes legal responsibility—what the law calls "vicarious liability"—on parents for injuries and damages their kids cause. In addition, Florida parents are liable when their own careless behavior, together with that of their children, causes harm to others.

What Are Florida's Parental Responsibility Laws?

There are two Florida parental responsibility laws that hold parents vicariously liable for their kids' wrongdoing. Vicarious liability means that the parent is held legally responsible, not for any actions of their own, but for the actions of their minor (under 18 years old) children. The child's unlawful conduct is imputed to the parent, putting the parent at risk for legal claims and damages.

Florida parents are on the hook for personal injuries and property damages their kids cause while:

  • operating a motor vehicle, and
  • committing acts of vandalism.

Operating a Motor Vehicle

In Florida, when a minor applies for a driver's license, a parent (or guardian) must sign the child's application. (Fla. Stat. § 322.09(1)(a) (2023).) As a rule, signing the application means that the parent can be held responsible, along with the child, for injuries and damages caused by the child's driving. (Fla. Stat. § 322.09(2) (2023).)

Parents are at risk for damages caused by a child's:

  • negligent (careless) driving, and
  • willful misconduct—deliberate acts done in reckless disregard of the possible consequences—while behind the wheel.

Finally, the statute doesn't put a cap, or limit, on a parent's financial exposure. Parents are responsible, individually and jointly with their kids, for all the damage their kids cause while driving.

Acts of Vandalism

Florida parents are also responsible for damages caused by their child's acts of vandalism. Fla. Stat. § 741.24(1) (2023) makes the parents of a child who's living with them liable when the child willfully or maliciously steals or destroys real or personal property belonging to another.

Parental responsibility extends only to the victim's actual damages—also known as compensatory damages—plus court costs. For example, parents could be held liable for the cost to repair or replace damaged or destroyed property, as well as for the owner's emotional distress. But they wouldn't be responsible for punitive damages.

Florida Parents Are Liable for Their Own Wrongdoing

Parental responsibility laws like those discussed above make parents liable for their kids' misbehavior. Like all other states, Florida also holds parents legally responsible for their own negligent or intentional misbehavior if it causes harm. In the context of the parent-child relationship, parental wrongdoing often means failure to supervise a child with known dangerous tendencies.

Suppose, for example, a child has a history of talking on the phone and texting while driving, paying attention to everything but the road. The parents know of these behaviors, but they still let the child drive unsupervised. If the child causes an accident while distracted by texting, the parents might be found negligent for allowing the child to drive.

Next Steps

If your child has caused injuries to another that might expose you to liability under Florida's parental responsibility laws, make sure you speak to your insurance agent as quickly as possible to see about reporting a possible claim. Should a claim be made against you, your insurance coverage—if you have it—likely will provide you with a lawyer.

If you don't have insurance coverage, think about consulting with a lawyer on your own to find out what options you have.

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