Colorado Limits Parents' Liability for Children's Auto Accidents

[/media-credit] A parent is responsible for the negligent acts of his child if the parent is aware or should be aware that he must control his child and fails to take practical actions to do so. What about for accidents caused by a child while driving the family car?

Can Parents Be Held Liable for Their Child’s Auto Accident?

In an age when it seems that nobody wants to be responsible for anything, the North Tonawanda (NY) City Council made a bold move to hold parents responsible for their kids’ behavior when it voted unanimously in October 2017 to allow police to arrest parents of bullies, jail them for up to 15 days, and fine them as much as $250.

The law is similar to those passed in several Wisconsin towns in 2015 to make parents liable for their kids’ behavior — specifically bullying. North Tonawanda Police Captain Thomas Krantz described the new law this way:

“It’s for the parents … who don’t have the wherewithal to do what they need to do to get their kids in line. The ones who say, ‘It’s not my problem.'”

The law reflects a growing trend at both state and local levels.

Parental Responsibility Laws Nothing New

Laws requiring a minimum level of parental responsibility have been present since the U.S. became a nation. States have imposed criminal sanctions against parents who have abused, neglected, or abandoned their children since early American history, and laws establishing a minimal standard of parenting (compulsory school attendance, and child support laws) have also been enacted.

Negligent parental supervision laws are yet another way to hold parents liable for the wrongs committed by their children. In 1846, more than a century before it became a state, Hawaii enacted legislation establishing tort liability for damages caused by delinquent youth. Today, most states hold parents civilly liable for the crimes of their children.

Many states support the idea of holding parents liable for the wrongful acts of their children, but some remain unconvinced, dreading potential legal challenges. This is because the mere fact that being a parent of someone under the age of 18 does not make them liable for their child’s wrongful acts.

If the child committed an unforeseeable act that causes harm to someone, despite his parent’s reasonable supervision, the parent will not typically be held liable, but in certain circumstances, a parent could be held responsible for negligent, malicious, or criminal acts committed by their child.

When Is a Parent Responsible for His Child’s Negligence?

A parent is responsible for the negligent acts of his child if the parent is aware or should be aware that he must control his child and fails to take practical actions to do so. Liability for negligent supervision is not just applied to parents — anyone who has legal custody of the child can also be held liable.

A parent or legal guardian can be held liable for a child’s auto accident in Colorado. For example, a parent has knowledge that their child tends to not check blind spots when changing lanes. If this child is still freely allowed to drive a vehicle without reasonable restrictions to prevent this behavior, and that child causes injury to another driver because he failed to check his blind spot, the parent or guardian may be held liable for property damage and bodily injuries.

Under Colorado law, liability up to $3,500 may be imposed upon a parent if their child maliciously or willfully damages or destroys someone else’s property or knowingly causes personal injury to another person. In states where there is no monetary limit on this type of liability, the damages can be extensive in the event of a lawsuit.

Parents sometimes don’t realize that while young children can’t be held responsible for criminal offenses, they can be held civilly liable for what they’ve done. But the good news is that many parents are protected in these types of lawsuits if they have homeowners’ insurance, which all borrowers are required to have if they take out a mortgage to buy a home.

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