My child damaged neighbor’s car am I liable for damages?

Recently on our legal forum a user asked, “I am recently divorced from my child’s father and my child lives with me. My child’s been acting out for the last several months. He broke my neighbor’s car window yesterday and my neighbor came over screaming and threatening to call the police. I am wondering what I have am legally required to do? Do I pay for the window? The car was parked on the street. I live in the State of Texas.”

Overview of parental civil liability in Texas

Like other states, the State of Texas does impose liability for some acts committed by a child which causes loss or damage to another person’s property. Under Texas Family Code section 41.001, Liability of Parents for Conduct of a Child, a parent (defined as someone who has “duty of control and reasonable discipline of a child”) is responsible for damage caused by that child if the following exists:

 (1)  the negligent conduct of the child if the conduct is reasonably attributable to the negligent failure of the parent or other person to exercise that duty;  or

(2)  the willful and malicious conduct of a child who is at least 10 years of age but under 18 years of age.

Am I responsible for my child’s actions?

So, to answer your first question, yes, you may be responsible for damages caused to your neighbor’s property if the plaintiff (your neighbor) can prove that the damage was the result of your child’s negligence and this negligence can reasonably be attributed to your failure to exercise your duty of control and reasonable discipline. Under this part of the statute, your liability applies to a child of any age, assuming they are under the age of 18.

You didn’t mention if your child intentionally or maliciously broke your neighbor’s window (as opposed to accidently throwing a rock or object towards the car), but if this is the case you could be liable for damages up to $25,000 plus court fees and lawyer’s expenses. 

Note, this part of the law only pertains to child ages 10 years of age and less than 18 years of age.

What if my neighbor was injured but there was no property damage?

Although you did not specifically ask about personal injury and liability, it’s important to note that this statute only applies to property damage. But don’t assume just because personal injury is not covered by these statutes that you cannot be held liable for your child’s negligent, intentional, or criminal actions.

In fact, under common law liability laws (as opposed to legislatively adopted statutes), you may also be held liable for personal injuries caused by your child in specific circumstances.

First, you may be held liable if you encouraged or approved of your child’s actions to injure or harm another person (i.e. you shouted for your child to punch another child in the face). Second, you may be held liable if the plaintiff can prove that you knew your child had the propensity to engage in certain reckless acts but you “failed to prevent the child from committing foreseeable acts that could result in harm to a third party” (i.e. your child had a history of violence).

Finally, if your child committed a criminal action you could also face civil liability for damages if you contributed to the delinquency of the minor. For example, if you allowed your child access to firearms or alcohol.

How do I pay for the damages?

If you believe your child has damaged another person’s property it’s time to talk to your neighbor. Find out what happened. It’s also important to discuss the issue with your child. If there is clear evidence that your child is at fault and you want to avoid court, it may be best to simply offer to pay for the damages. 

You will also need to review your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance coverage. Under some conditions, your coverage may cover property and liability issues which are caused by your child. If your child was operating a motorized vehicle you may have coverage for injuries under your car insurance policy.

Bottom Line:

As a parent you are expected to instill strong moral values and responsible behavior in your child. The expectation is that even when your child is not under your direct supervision they will act as an upstanding citizen and avoid actions that could damage another person’s property or person.

Do accidents happen? Yes, but this does not mean that you will never be held liable for injury or damage. In fact, Texas has a lower standard than some states which allows mere negligence to invoke parental responsibility- as opposed to some state which require the child to act with intent. 

With that said, the laws can vary by state and can be complicated. If you have any questions about your liability under statute or common law, talk to a lawyer for more information.

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