Like almost every other state, South Carolina has enacted a statute known as a "parental responsibility law." These are civil laws that can be used to hold a parent or legal guardian financially accountable for certain injuries or damages their minor children cause. Often, the minor must act intentionally or maliciously in order to trigger parental liability. But a few states impose parental liability for accidents as well.
In this article, we'll discuss some of the specific rules laid out in South Carolina's parental responsibility law, which can be found at South Carolina Code Ann. section 63-5-60.
In South Carolina, if a minor maliciously, or willfully, causes personal injury, or property damage (including theft), the minor's parents will be responsible. This "maliciously or willfully" standard is an elevated one, and it means that the minor must act with some amount of intent and/or ill will. So, if a minor is simply careless and causes an accident where someone is injured or property is damaged, that is not enough to hold a parent liable under South Carolina law.
It does not matter whether the victim of a minor's actions is an individual or an entity of some kind (that includes a company, a municipality, a religious organization, etc.). All kinds of claimants are entitled to recover their losses from the minor's parents if the minor's conduct was malicious or willful and was the the legal cause of the resulting harm.
Under South Carolina's parental responsibility law, a parent's financial liability is limited to $5,000. So, for example, if a child willfully damages someone else's house, and it costs $6,000 to make necessary repairs, the homeowner will be limited to collecting $5,000 from the child's parents.
In addition to a limit on the amount of recovery, there is also a limit on the type of damages you can recover. Under South Carolina Code Ann. section 63-5-60, victims can only recover "actual damages." For property damage, this would be the cost to repair, or replace, the damaged property. For bodily injuries, this would be the cost of the medical care to treat the victim's injuries (up to the $5,000 limit). "Actual damages" does not include non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering.
Minors and their parents are jointly and severally liable, under Section 63-5-60, as long as the minor would have been responsible for the damage or injury had he or she been an adult. "Joint and several" is a legal term that means claimants have two recovery options -- they can recover their damages against the parent and minor, collectively, or they may collect all of their damages from the parent or the child, individually (with the $5,000 ceiling still in place for the parent's liability).
South Carolina Code Ann. section 63-5-60 does not eliminate a minor's responsibility and shift it entirely to the parents. Minors are still legally responsible for the consequences of their actions. And if the minor's actions would prompt a finding of liability under another statute, section 63-5-60 does not affect such a finding. In other words, section 63-5-60 creates liability in addition to -- not in lieu of -- liability under other South Carolina statutes.
Section 63-5-60 does not apply to people who have custody of a minor under the authority of a state agency or a county social services department. It also does not apply to state agencies or county departments of social services with legal custody of a minor.
Even in cases where section 63-5-60 does not apply, South Carolina parents may be held accountable for their children's actions based on a non-statutory, traditional set of legal rules known as the "common law."
For example, imagine a parent is aware his or her child is an inattentive driver who talks or texts on the cell phone incessantly while driving. In spite of this knowledge, the parent allows the child to drive a vehicle, without any restrictions. If that child ends up causing an accident while talking or texting on the phone, the parent could be considered negligent for allowing the child to drive and failing to prevent foreseeable harm to others based on the child's known "dangerous propensities." Learn more about Negligence and the Duty of Care.