Parental Responsibility Laws in New York

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

Nearly every state has passed some form of a parental responsibility law. Under these statutes, parents or legal guardians can be accountable for certain damages caused by a minor child. The specifics depend on the language of the particular state's law, but parents may be on the financial hook when a child damages or destroys property, or injures someone, intentionally or maliciously. In some states, parents may even be responsible for harm their children cause accidentally. In this article, we'll take a close look at the details of New York's parental responsibility law.

The Basics of New York's Parental Responsibility Law

New York's Parental Responsibility Law can be found at N.Y. General Obligations Law 3-112.

Under this statute, parents and legal guardians are only responsible for the 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 the child's actions. So keep in mind that this law only applies if a minor child is over 10, and less than 18, years old.

Under N.Y. General Obligations Law 3-112, parents and legal guardians who have custody of a minor child can be held responsible for the actions of that child. If, however, the State, Social Services Department, or a foster parent has custody of a minor, they will not be responsible under 3-112.

Who Can Pursue Damages Under New York's Parental Responsibility Law?

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

Liability for Property Damage

Liability under 3-112 applies when a minor willfully, or maliciously, damages 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.

Liability for "False Bombs"

New York specifically penalizes reporting, or placing, a "false bomb." Under 3-112, parents and guardians can be responsible if a minor in their custody breaks that law. Damages for this offense equate to the funds that were reasonably expended in responding to the report or placement of the false bomb. This could turn out to be a pretty hefty penalty. It costs a great deal of money to deploy a bomb unit and several police officers. Liability is limited, however, to $5,000.

What About a Parent's Inability to Pay?

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 Available to the Parent?

If restitution has been paid, parents and guardians cannot be liable 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 is 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.

"Common Law" May Still Place Responsibility on Parents in New York

Even if a minor's actions fall outside the scope of the laws outlined above, the "common law" -- which is a longstanding, non-statutory set of legal principles -- may still hold parents accountable. For instance, if a parent knows that a child has a tendency to engage in certain dangerous activities, the parent may be under a legal obligation to take reasonable steps to prevent the child from causing foreseeable harm. Failure to take those steps could amount to negligence. Learn more about Negligence, the Duty of Care, and Fault for an Injury.

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