Parental Responsibility Laws in Indiana

Understanding a parent or legal guardian's potential liability for a minor's "willful misconduct" or negligence in Indiana.

By , Attorney · Cooley Law School

Nearly every state has some form of a "parental responsibility law," which makes parents and/or guardians liable for certain damages caused by their unemancipated minor children. Some states limit parental liability to intentional and/or malicious actions taken by a minor, while other states extend liability to accidents. In this article, we'll focus on some of the key aspects of Indiana's parental responsibility laws.

What are Indiana's Parental Responsibility Laws?

Indiana has passed a number of laws that specify when parents will be civilly responsible for the harmful actions of their children. These laws identify the types of conduct that could trigger liability of parents and guardians, and they also spell out the extent of that potential liability. Indiana's parental responsibility laws focus on three areas:

How Young Must the Child Be Under Indiana Law?

Parents or guardians can only be held liable for certain conduct of their minor children. And since Indiana defines the age of majority as 18 years old (as do most states), the Indiana laws we're discussing here do not apply to parents whose children are over the age of 18.

Parental Responsibility for Bodily Injury and Property Damage in Indiana

Under Indiana Code, Section 34-31-4, a parent/guardian will be financially responsible for certain harm to a person, or damage to property, stemming from a minor's conduct if:

  • the parent or guardian has custody of the minor child, and
  • the child is living with the parent or guardian.

There are a couple of important limitations on this liability:

  • the child must have caused the harm knowingly, intentionally, or recklessly, and
  • the parent/guardian will not be liable for more than $5,000 in actual damages.

"Actual damages" means that the injured person can't recover money for non-economic losses like "pain and suffering," which can ordinarily be a pretty significant component of damages in a personal injury case.

Parental Responsibility for a Minor Child's Gang Involvement in Indiana

Under Section 2 of Indiana Code, Section 34-31-4, parents and guardians can be held responsible if their minor child causes bodily harm or property damage while participating in criminal activity as a member of a gang.

In order for the parent or guardian to be liable under this part of the law:

  • the parent or guardian must have custody of the minor child
  • the child must live with the parent/guardian, and
  • the parent/guardian must fail to take reasonable measures to prevent the child's involvement in a criminal gang.

This statute is clearly geared toward reducing gang-related violence. To that end, the statute does not place any limit on liability, so non-economic damages like "pain and suffering" are on the table.

Parental Responsibility for a Child's Driving in Indiana

Like many states, Indiana requires parents, guardians, or another responsible adult to sign a minor's application for a permit or driver's license. Under Indiana Code, Section 9-24-9-4, the person who signs this application agrees to be jointly liable -- along with the minor -- for any injuries or damages the minor causes, and is liable for, through operation of a motor vehicle.

If the adult who signed the application wishes to be relieved of this responsibility, he or she can submit a verified written request. If this requested is submitted, the minor's permit or driver's license is immediately suspended, and the adult is off the financial hook. Of course, the adult is also absolved of legal responsibility for the minor's driving once the minor turns 18.

Indiana Parents May Still Be Liable Under Common Law

Indiana's parental responsibility laws will not apply to every situation where a minor causes injury or property damage. That said, parents may still find themselves responsible for their children's actions. Under traditional principles of "common law," parents have a responsibility to use reasonable care to control their minor child and prevent intentional harm and reckless behavior likely to pose an unreasonable risk of bodily injury. In other words, if a parent knows his or her child has a propensity to act recklessly or carelessly, the parent may, generally speaking, be expected to take reasonable steps to prevent that child from causing foreseeable harm to others.

Learn more about Proving Fault for Accidents and Injuries.

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