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What is a Parent's Potential Civil Liability for Their Children's Actions?

If you turn on the news today, you often see tragic events: murders, car accidents, gun violence, prostitution stings; these are all horrific events. Most people are familiar with the criminal consequences of something like drunk driving. However, for parents, there could be looming costs for a defense attorney, should their child commit a bad act against another person.

Recently, the families of the victims from the Santa Fe High School shooting have sued the parents of the suspect. The families are asking for compensation for funeral costs, as well as for the emotional trauma their son has wrought upon them.

But, what exactly is the scope of liability for parents relating to the actions of their children?

The Texas Family Code has a short, but concise statute regarding property damage caused by their children. The statute covers not just parents, but also anyone that has a "duty of control" of the child. This would include guardians, or even babysitters. Parties can be held liable in 2 situations:

1) Where the negligent conduct of the child is "reasonably attributable" to the negligent failure of the parent to exercise control over the child; or

2) When the child is between 10 and 18 years, and conduct is done willfully or maliciously.

The code also puts a limitation on damages: not more than $25,000 per occurrence, in addition to attorney's fees, and court costs. However, this statute not cover personal injury liability.

In Texas, injured parties can sue the parents of the child under common law theories of breach of duty, or failure to prevent a foreseeable harm. These are both similar theories of liability under traditional negligence tort law. Negligence requires the plaintiff to prove 4 things:

1) There was a duty of care to the injured party;

2) There was a breach of that duty;

3) The defendant's conduct was the actual and proximate cause of the harm to the injured party; and

4) There were damages that the injured party received because of the negligent conduct.

Parents have a duty to exercise control of their children, and should know if their child exhibits dangerous propensities or behaviors towards others. For example, if a parent knows, or should have known that their child tends to bite or hit other people if they don't take their medication, then the parents could be held liable for the child's actions.

If you or a member of your family has been injured from the actions of a child because of a parent's negligence, Reich & Binstock can help you receive compensation.

Chapter 41 of the Texas Family Code

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