Parental Responsibility Laws in New York

Understand when parents can be liable for the children's actions in New York.

By , Attorney · Cooley Law School
Updated by David Goguen, J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law

Nearly every state has passed some form of a parental responsibility law. Under these laws, parents or legal guardians can be accountable, through the concept of "vicarious liability," for certain kinds of harm—including injuries or property damage—caused by their minor child. In this article, we'll take a close look at the details of New York's parental responsibility laws.

New York's Parental Responsibility Statute

A key aspect of New York's parental responsibility laws can be found at N.Y. General Obligations Law 3-112.

Under this statute, parents and legal guardians can be held responsible for certain actions of their minor children. New York, like most states, sets the age of majority at 18. However, New York's Parental Responsibility Law also says a child must be over the age of 10 for parents to be held responsible for their child's actions.

So, keep in mind that GOL 3-112 only applies if a minor child is:

  • over the age of 10, and
  • under the age of 18, years old.

GOL 3-112 says parents and legal guardians who have custody of a minor child can be held responsible for the actions of that child. If the State, Social Services Department, or a foster parent has custody of a minor, then 3-112 doesn't apply.

Parents Can Be Liable For Property Damage Caused By Their Child In New York

Liability under 3-112 applies when a minor willfully, or maliciously causes damage to property. It also imposes liability for vandalism and property theft. 3-112 pretty well covers the whole gamut of property offenses, as long as the minor acted willfully or maliciously. That means there has to be some level of intent behind the action.

So, parents won't be held liable under 3-112 if a child damages property by accident, but the parent might still be financially responsible under other legal principles (more on this later).

Learn more about property damage claims in New York.

Parents Can Be Liable When Their Child Falsely Reports an Incident/Emergency In New York

New York specifically penalizes the false reporting of a occurrence or impending occurrence of a crime, catastrophe, or emergency under circumstances that could likely cause "public alarm" or "inconvenience." It's also a crime to place a "false bomb" or similar device in a public area, in order to cause suspicion or alarm.

Under 3-112, parents and guardians can be responsible if a minor in their custody breaks these laws, making the parent/guardian financially responsible for public resources that were expended in responding to the false report (or to the placement of the object), and related losses. The parent or guardian's financial liability is limited to $5,000 under 3-112.

Who Can Pursue Damages Under 3-112?

Virtually anyone, or any entity, who has been damaged by the willful, malicious, or unlawful actions of a minor may seek to recover compensation ("damages" in the language of the law) from the parents or guardians of the minor. In other words, individuals, municipalities, corporations, churches, etc. may all pursue damages under 3-112.

What About a Parent's Inability to Pay Damages Under 3-112?

If judgment is entered against a parent or guardian under 3-112, for $500, or more, the parent or guardian may apply for a "hardship forgiveness" of sorts. The parent or guardian must present extensive evidence of their inability to pay. If sufficient evidence is provided, the court may reduce the amount of the judgment against the parent. In no case, however, will the judgment be reduced to less than $500.

Are There Any Defenses to Parental Responsibility Under 3-112?

Parents and guardians may also be excused from liability if the minor in their custody voluntarily, and without good cause, abandoned the home of the parent or guardian before the damage or destruction occurred.

It's not a defense that the parent or guardian exercised diligent supervision over the minor child. However, courts may consider this as a mitigating factor in determining the extent of liability.

Other Legal Rules May Place Responsibility on Parents in New York

Even if a minor's actions fall outside the scope of the New York statutes we've discussed so far, parents themselves can be held accountable for harm caused by their minor children if the parent's own negligence played a part in causing or contributing to the harm.

For instance, if a parent knows that their 17 year-old son has a history of reckless driving (racking up four tickets and an accident in one year, let's say), the parent will likely have a legal obligation to take reasonable steps to prevent the child from causing foreseeable harm to others on the road.

If the parent does nothing, and lets the son drive the family car whenever and wherever he pleases, that could amount to negligence (often under a specific concept called "negligent supervision") on the part of the parent, and they could face liability for any harm resulting from a car accident caused by the son.

Learn more about parents' liability for a teen driver's car accident.

A Parent's Car Insurance Coverage Often Extends to Their Children In New York

In the above scenario, the parent's own car insurance policy will likely cover any accident caused by the son (unless he's been specifically excluded from the policy). So, at least some of the financial responsibility for accident-related injuries and vehicle damage will be absorbed by the insurance company. Learn more about what drivers and vehicles are covered by car insurance.

Getting Help With a New York Parental Responsibility Case

If you're facing (or thinking of pursuing) an injury-related case under New York's laws on parental responsibility, it might make sense to discuss your situation and your options with an experienced legal professional. Get tips on hiring and working with a lawyer.

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