Are Parents Responsible for Their Child’s Crimes?

According to the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, in a given year, more than 50,000 juveniles are arrested in Texas or referred to the juvenile probation system. Could their parents be held responsible for those crimes? The short answer is “yes,” although there are many factors involved in pursuing civil or criminal action against them.

For nearly 30 years, The Linder Firm has provided experienced criminal defense to clients in Dallas and throughout the Dallas Metro and North Texas. Attorney Phillip Linder began his career as a prosecuting attorney, and he uses that experience to negotiate with the prosecution and aggressively defend his clients in the courtroom.

Does Texas Have Parental Responsibility Laws?

The logic behind parental responsibility laws is that parents should control their children well enough to keep them from behaving negligently or breaking the law.

A Texas statute makes parents or anyone who should exercise control over the child, including a guardian, specifically responsible for property damage caused by the child. If the damage was accidental, however, it does not hold parents responsible for personal injuries that may occur as the result of the damage. 

For example, your child crashes an ATV into a vehicle which causes the vehicle to crash and the driver to be injured. No matter the age of your child, so long as they are under the age of 18, you could be found negligent by failing to control them. You could be held civilly liable for the damage to the vehicle, but you could not be held liable under the statute for damages resulting from a personal injury claim asserted by the driver.

Responsibility also extends to parents of children at least 10 years old and under the age of 18 when their child’s acts are willful and malicious. Such would be the case if instead of the child accidentally hitting the vehicle, they intentionally crashed into it.

Although this statute addresses civil liability for property damage only, parents could still be sued under tort law for a personal injury claim, for example, if the child’s behavior was malicious.

What Is Negligence?

Everyone owes everyone else a duty of care under the law. Duty of care means taking the actions, or avoiding actions, that a reasonable person would take to avoid harming someone else. The Texas parental responsibility statute holds that parents who fail to exercise their “duty of control and reasonable discipline” can be held accountable for the property damage their child of any age under 18 causes by their negligence.

Car accidents, for example, are usually not the result of someone intentionally setting out to cause one. Rather, they occur because someone is negligent by driving too fast or being distracted by their mobile phone. They occur because someone failed to exercise the duty of care they owe to others.

Similarly, if parents host or allow their children to have a party at their home and alcohol is served or made available, then those parents can face penalties for giving alcohol to minors and also be held liable for damages if one of the underage guests leaves their house and commits a crime.

What Is Willful and Malicious Conduct?

The difference between negligence and willful and malicious conduct is intent. When parents fail to exercise their “duty of control and reasonable discipline” of a child who intentionally damages property or commits a crime, they will face greater consequences. 

The law holds that willful and malicious conduct applies to children from ages 10 to 17, essentially presuming that younger children are not capable of such intent or unable to understand the potential results of their actions.

What Damages Might Parents Be Responsible For?

Under the parental responsibility law, you could be held responsible for paying up to $25,000 in actual damages plus attorney’s fees and court costs.

If, however, you are sued under tort law for personal injury caused by your child, you could be responsible for paying for significantly higher damages.

What About a Child’s Use of a Firearm?

Although Texas law addresses negligent use of an automobile, neither the law nor case law has yet established if negligent use applies to firearms. However, many other states have codified a firearm owner’s responsibility when the instrument is used to harm someone, or their Supreme Courts have established responsibility in rendering decisions.

The negligent use of firearms cases that have come before Texas courts to date have not been successful in holding an owner responsible for the actions of someone else who used their firearm. The courts have said that plaintiffs in these actions have failed to prove that the firearm owner knew the perpetrator would use the firearm to harm someone else; therefore, the owner could not be held liable for their actions. Should there be evidence of prior knowledge and a failure to secure a firearm from someone who uses it for harm, the owner, possibly a parent of the perpetrator, could potentially be held liable in future cases that come before the courts.  

Getting the Experienced Legal Support You Need

As a parent, you can be placed in a difficult situation if you are held responsible for the actions of your child. Seeking counsel from an experienced criminal defense attorney is a wise first step in understanding parental responsibility laws and in facing punishment under the law. Attorney Phillip Linder can help.

Call The Linder Firm in Dallas, Texas, to schedule a consultation. The repercussions of your child’s actions won’t just disappear. Call today.


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