Can parents be legally liable for the negligent actions of their children?

By Christopher Wurster, Esq. & Janel Carr

When can you be sued for the actions of your child? Nearly all states in the United States have laws regarding a parent’s responsibility for their child’s actions and Massachusetts is no exception.

First, there is an express cause of action that imposes liability on the parents of a child aged seven to eighteen for the child’s “willful acts” which end in someone’s injury or death or damage to someone else’s property. However, under that law, M.G.L. 231 § 85G, you are only financial liable to a limited extent; recovery is limited to proven damages and in any event it is capped at no more than $5,000.

But, someone could also sue you under common law for the negligent acts of your child – with no statutory cap on damages.  So for example, if you know your child tends to get a little wild in certain situations – a legal concept known as a “dangerous propensity” – you could be on the hook for any resulting injuries.

This is particularly true with respect to driving. Let’s say your child got a ticket for running a red light. You let it go.  Later, your child is speeding and crashes into the car in front of him when it stops at a light.  The crash causes permanent disability to the other driver.  You might be on the hook for those injuries because the injured driver can argue that you knew your child was a reckless driver and failed to do anything about it. So the car accident is on you.

You may also be on the hook if you allow your teenage child and her friends to drink alcohol in your home and there are resulting injuries.  You don’t have to provide the booze to be liable; you simply have to know that underage children are drinking in your home.  You might also be liable if you simply leave your liquor cabinet unlocked, thereby allowing children to access it.

With all of this in mind, it’s even more important to have homeowner’s insurance and an umbrella policy. Although you are not guaranteed insurance coverage of your child’s actions, in the right situation, it may apply.


If you or a family member have been injured, call the personal injury attorneys at Levine-Piro Law, P.C. to schedule a free consultation. 978-637-2048

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