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Are Parents Responsible for Property Damage Caused by Their Children?

Are Parents Responsible for Property Damage Caused by Their Children?

Posted on January 10th, 2019

When a minor causes property damage such as graffiti, broken windows, or smashed mailboxes, liability for repairs may fall to the parents. Laws in Alabama may hold the parents and guardians of children under 18 legally responsible for property damage the children cause. Parents in Alabama may find themselves liable for property damages in some situations – either up to a limit of $1,000 or well beyond, depending on the circumstances.

What Does the Law Say?

Code of Alabama Section 6-5-380 states that anyone with care and control over a minor under the age of 18, including parents, guardians, and others with custody of the minor, will be liable for damages in a case involving the minor destroying property. Note that in Alabama, this law does not apply to foster parents or their foster children. To bear liability for the actions of a minor, an individual must fulfill each of the three stipulations.

  1. Parents must have had care or control of the minor.
  2. Parents must live with the minor.
  3. Parents must have custody of the minor.

The law imposes liability on parents who fulfill these requirements for all damages the destruction of property causes, but within a limit. Parents’ liability cannot exceed $1,000, plus court costs. This means even if a minor causes expensive property damage, such as stealing and crashing a yacht, parents will only be legally responsible for paying a maximum of $1,000. Real property and personal properties apply under the law.

The law only applies when a minor’s actions were willful, intentional, or malicious while destroying the property. If the child accidentally or negligently caused the property damage, Alabama law will not hold parents liable. Carelessness is not enough to create parental liability for the destruction of property. Instead, the defendant’s lawyer must prove the minor’s intent to cause the damage. Under the statute, a parent’s liability ends when a child turns 18, or the age of majority.

Liability for Criminal Wrongs

Civil parental liability differs from criminal liability. If a child under 18 commits a crime during the destruction of property, such as trespassing or arson, a parent generally will not be vicariously liable. Instead, the minor will face punishment for his or her own crimes through the juvenile system. That is, unless the parent contributed to the delinquency of the child, thereby contributing to the destruction of property.

Section 12-15-111 of the law makes it a crime to willfully cause a child to become delinquent or in need of supervision, as well as to permit the child to violate labor laws. If a parent’s own delinquency contributed to the child criminally destroying someone else’s property, the parent could be the one who faces criminal charges, not the child. Criminal liability could result in fines and jail time.

Parental Liability Outside of the Statute

Property owners may have the right to file lawsuits against a minor’s parents for more than the $1,000 liability limit if the parents themselves are guilty of negligence. If parents failed to take reasonable actions to prevent their child’s vandalism or destructive tendencies, the parents could bear responsibility for the property damage. Filing a claim against the parents could result in more than $1,000 in damages. Parents could be liable for covering the entire costs of property repairs or replacement.

Most homeowners insurance policies will cover damages a negligent or malicious child or parent causes to someone else’s property. If the policy includes property and liability coverage, it will cover parental liability and negligent supervision claims, even if the destruction took place at someone else’s home. Therefore, if a parent does not have enough out-of-pocket money to pay for property damages a child caused, his or her insurance company may cover most of the settlement or judgment.

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