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When To Hold Parents Accountable: The Facts On Parental Liability

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Monday, March 6, 2017

When To Hold Parents Accountable: The Facts On Parental Liability

Personal Injury Attorney Helping Clients Understand Parental Liability in Chicago

Parents might be liable for the actions of their child, especially if those actions are negligent or criminal in nature. Typically, parental liability kicks in from the age of eight to when the child reaches adulthood. So, under the basic premise, a parent may be sued for the actions of a minor child.

However, parental liability is much more complicated than this; therefore, it is in your best interest to speak with a personal injury attorney before assuming that you could sue the parents of a child for something the child did.

The Basics of Parental Liability

The term “parental liability” refers to a parent’s responsibility to pay for damages caused by a minor child. To avoid unnecessary claims, the liability does not usually start until a child is between eight and ten years old (the age when children would know better than to do the acts they did), and goes until the child reaches the age of maturity.

Every state has its laws about a parents’ civil liability based on the acts of his or her children. Parental liability works similarly to employer liability, because parental responsibility falls under the same legal concept known as vicarious liability. When parents are vicariously liable, they are responsible for the damages and injuries caused by their child, even though they did not cause the injuries themselves.

The Responsibility of a Parent Under Illinois Statutes

If a child conducts a negligent act, and that negligent act causes injury or harm to another person, the issue of liability will ultimately come up. Under the Illinois Parental Responsibility Law (IPRL), listed in the 740 ILCS 115 of Illinois Compiled Statutes, a parent or legal guardian is legally liable for purposeful or intentional acts that result in the harm or injury of another and were caused by a minor child.

Who Would be Listed in the Suit?

Using the rules of the IPRL, the parent or legal guardian of the minor is liable for actions committed by the minor. Unlike other states, the IPRL starts responsibility at the age of 11 and goes until the child is 19 years old.

If the child has a legal guardian, this individual was appointed guardianship or received custody through the courts. Legal guardian does not apply to a juvenile court-appointed guardian.

Even if the child is between the age of 11 and 19, the parents or legal guardians may not be held liable if the child was legally emancipated from his or her family by an Illinois or other state court of law.

Lastly, for the parent to be considered liable, the minor child must live with that parent or legal guardian. If he or she does not reside in the parents’ or legal guardians’ residence, then they are not in control of the minor; therefore, they cannot be considered liable for the minor’s actions (regardless of age).

When the IPRL Could Apply to Your Accident Case

If you were injured by a minor, and you are exploring the idea of holding the minor’s parents or legal guardians accountable for the child’s actions, it is important to understand the terms of the IPRL.

The IPRL does not apply to all conduct of a minor that results in injuries or damages. Therefore, your particular injury case may not apply, and you may not have a viable suit against the parent or legal guardian.

Some instances where the parent may not be liable include:

  • True motor vehicle accidents. Even if the minor was at-fault and caused an accident via negligence, if the courts deem it a “true accident,” the minor’s parents are not liable for the damages. Instead, the minor would have had to intentionally cause the accident or intentionally be reckless.
  • Negligence in the workplace. Minors in the state can get a part-time job as early as 16 years of age. If the minor causes an injury at work, but not intentionally or maliciously, parents may not be liable for the injury. However, the employer could still fall under vicarious liability.

Consideration of the Conduct is Required

Under the IPRL, a parent is only liable when the minor acts maliciously or willfully, and those actions cause injury or harm to another person. In order to see if that IPRL rule would apply to your case, your personal injury attorney must first assess the minor’s conduct, and determine if that conduct was the result of a negligent act done purposefully.

For example, the minor drank and drove. While he or she was not malicious, he or she broke the law at the time and intentionally drove drunk, knowing that he or she could cause an injury. Therefore, the court may allow the IPRL to apply in this instance – especially if that minor was living with his or her parents at the time, and the parents knew where the minor was going that night.

However, an accident caused by an inattentive teen driver – such as one driving while texting – does not necessarily apply to the IPRL, because that teen was not malicious or willful.

Damages Applicable Under the IPRL

If a parent is found liable under the rules of the IPRL, the parent or legal guardian can only be forced to pay the real and actual damages from the injury.

Therefore, the parent must pay economic damages, such as medical costs, property damage, and more. Non-economic damages and punitive damages, such as pain and suffering, are not the responsibility of the parent under the IPRL. A judge may, however, award a reasonable amount in attorney’s fees to the plaintiff.

The IPRL also limits the damage award in these types of cases. Parental liability is capped at $20,000 for any actual economic damages for the first act. If the child has a history of repeated willful and malicious acts toward others, the parents are then capped at a maximum of $30,000.

There Are Still Other Means for Collecting Compensation

While parental liability does not always apply, there are other methods for receiving compensation after a minor causes an injury. For example, a teen driver who causes a motor vehicle accident is not off the hook for these negligent acts.

The Theory of Negligent Entrustment

If the teen driver causes an accident while in the family vehicle, and the teen has a history of accidents of a similar nature in that vehicle, then the parents could be liable for any injuries or damages. In Illinois, this is known as the Family Purpose Doctrine.

Under the Family Purpose Doctrine, the plaintiff can hold the vehicle’s owner liable if a family member causes an accident in that vehicle. The law was designed to overstep the original theory that the owner of the vehicle is not responsible – even if he or she allowed someone to drive the vehicle.

Often, however, this Doctrine is irrelevant in a motor vehicle accident case. After all, the at-fault vehicle was likely covered by an insurance policy, and the teen driver is most likely covered by that auto insurance policy, if he or she is a licensed driver. Therefore, an attorney could seek damages against the automobile insurance company for damages.

If there is no insurance policy on the vehicle, then a personal injury attorney may deploy the Family Purpose Doctrine to protect the client and recover compensation for his or her client’s losses through the vehicle owner’s assets.

Proving the Family Purpose Doctrine Applies to Your Case

You cannot use the Family Purpose Doctrine just because the owner of the vehicle is the driver’s parent. Instead, your attorney must prove that:

  • The vehicle’s owner purchased and maintained the vehicle for family use and convenience.
  • The vehicle was in use for a family purpose at the time of the accident.

The definition of a “family purpose” is not accurately defined in the statute. Defining such is a complex matter that is often left to whichever attorneys can prove that the “family purpose” applied in their case.

Agency Theory

Most courts today reject the Family Purpose Doctrine, because they feel it is too broad. Instead, they consider the agency theory more applicable.

Under the agency theory, a vehicle owner can be liable for the negligence of the vehicle’s drivers. The difference between family purpose and agency theory may not be apparent at first, but it is quite important to understand if you are an accident victim.

Under the agency theory, a vehicle’s owner cannot be held liable just because the at-fault driver was a member of the family. Instead, your attorney must show that the driver was acting as an agent. No familial relationship is required in this type of case. Instead, the driver must be doing business for the owner at the time of the accident.

Under the agency theory, here is an example:

  • Instance Where the Parent is Not Liable: A parent allows a teen driver to use the car to visit friends. The teen was texting and driving and caused an accident. Under agency law, the parent is not liable.
  • Instance Where the Parent is Liable: The parent asks his or her teen driver to take the family car to go pick up groceries. Because the teen was using the car as a service to the car’s owner, the parent is now liable.

Determining Parental Liability is Complex – Contact an Injury Attorney

If you were injured in an accident with a teen driver, and you are wondering about your options for parental liability, contact an injury attorney from Malman Law today. Our team is here to help you with the complexities of personal injury law, and we will advocate for your right to collect compensation. Schedule an appointment now to discuss your case by calling or contacting us online.

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