The question of legal parental responsibility for the actions of their minor children has been very much in the news recently, perhaps most notoriously when two teens were accused of bullying another child so mercilessly that she jumped to her death at just 12 years old. The local sheriff in the place arrested the girls and indicated that he wished there was a way to charge their parents as well.

 What to Know

Though criminal charges were not available in this situation, it is important to understand, particularly if you or your child has been injured by the actions of another child or if your child has been the cause of injury to somebody else, that there are some instances where parents can be held responsible for the actions of their children, and others where they cannot.

The rule of thumb in almost every state across the United States is that both the young adult who has caused the harm can be held responsible, and so can their parents if the child’s actions have been intentional and negligent. However, the parents’ level of responsibility often depends upon how much they knew about and took action when their child’s actions were dangerous or likely to cause harm.

Importantly, if a parent is aware of a child’s behavior and chooses not to exercise appropriate parental intervention then they can be held entirely responsible, but in many of these cases the negligence is actually on the parents’ part, even if it is their child who physically caused the harm. For example, if a child causes physical injury to another child while playing sports, and it is determined that the child who caused the harm was unsupervised by their parent, was not being appropriately supervised, or as is being seen in more and more cases was encouraged by the parent to cause the harm, then it is the parent that is held responsible.

 One More Thing

Another important point to consider is the laws regarding the consumption of alcohol by underaged drinkers. Teens are notorious for having parties in the basements of unsuspecting parents, and in cases where adults are unaware of the revelry the court will ask whether the parents should have suspected the activity. In cases where the parents thought they were being cool, or even responsible, by providing safe harbor for the drinking activities -whether they actually provided the liquor or not – they can be held responsible both criminally and civilly.

 Maybe Move To Pennsylvania With Teenagers?

One other thing to consider … in the state of Pennsylvania, the parental liability is financially limited to just $1,000 in liability per incident and $2,500 aggregate, regardless of whether the issue involves an auto accident, property damage or personal injury.  That being the case, in situations where a minor has been involved and is responsible for a personal injury, the best bet for seeking damages is to find another responsible party, for example the school that is tasked with providing a safe environment in a bullying situation.
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