How to Sue Minors in Small Claims Court

Learn what you must do to sue a minor and will it will be worth your time.

By , J.D. · New York University School of Law

It is very difficult to succeed when you sue a minor for breach of contract because minors can disavow (back out of) any contract they sign as long as they do it before turning 18. The only exception is if the contract was for a necessity of life–for example, food–in which case the minor's parents are probably responsible.

Can You Sue a Minor as an Adult?

You can sue emancipated minors, that is, people under 18 who are legally treated as adults. This includes minors who are on active duty in the armed services, are married, or have been emancipated (freed from parental control) by court order.

Can You Sue a Minor for Property Damage?

Although it is legal to sue minors for injuring you or damaging your property, it's rarely worthwhile because most don't have the funds to pay the judgment. There are exceptions, of course. If you wish to sue someone under 18, do it like this: "John Jeffrey, a minor, and William Jeffrey, his father."

Can Someone Sue a Minor's Parents?

But what about suing the offending kid's parents? Normally, a parent is not legally responsible for paying for damages negligently caused by his or her children. However, there are some exceptions to this rule.

In virtually all states, if a child is guilty of "malicious or willful misconduct," a parent may be liable up to a certain dollar amount per act for all property damage ($10,000 in some states; often a lot more if a gun is involved) and sometimes for personal injuries.

Parents might also be liable to pay for the damage their minor children caused in auto accidents if they authorized the child to drive and knew the child was a risky driver. Check the index to your state's laws under "Minors," "Children," or "Parent and Child" for the rules in your state.

Example 1: John Johnson, age 17, trips over his shoelace while delivering your newspaper and crashes through your glass door. Can you recover from John's parents? Probably not, as John is not guilty of "willful misconduct."

Example 2: John shoots out the same glass door with a slingshot after you have repeatedly asked his parents to disarm him. Can you recover from the parents? Probably.

Can You Take a Minor to Small Claims Court?

The rules for suing a minor should be similar regardless of the court. However, because small claims courts often use lawyers to act as judges, some cases requiring specialized knowledge aren't handled in small claims courts.

The simplest way to determine whether you can bring your action in small claims is by reading the rules of the particular court. Most small claims courts post their filing procedures and guidelines on court websites.

Find out more about small claims court in your state.