Suppose a ten-year-old boy sees another boy riding his bicycle and thinks it would be “funny” to push him over. So the ten-year-old pushes the bicyclist over and he suffers serious injuries. Are the parents liable for the actions of their ten-year-old son?
In most states, parents are liable only for the intentional wrongful acts of their children, and there is usually a dollar amount on this, such as $10,000 or $15,000. Now suppose that instead of deliberately hurting the bicyclist, the boy runs into the path in front of him, causing the bicyclist to lose his or her balance, fall off the bike, and sustain injuries.
Are the parents liable for the carelessness (negligence) of their child? In most states the answer to this question is no. While the parents are liable up to a certain amount of money for the deliberate acts of their minor children, they are not usually liable for the negligent acts of their children that cause injury. One main exception to this rule is that, if the child is a teenager driving the family car on a family errand or with the express or implied consent of the parents (“permissive user”), the parents are liable for all injuries and property damage caused by their child’s negligence should he or she be a fault and get into an accident.
To protect themselves and their property from being the subject of a civil lawsuit, the parents should have the child who drives added to their automobile insurance policy. And we recommend at a minimum that you have 100/300 policy limits, which means that if a person is injured he or she can collect up to $100,000, with a total pay out per accident of $300,000 regardless of how many people are injured. We also strongly recommend that you buy an “umbrella policy” that covers your automobile and personal liability for up to $1 million. The cost of an umbrella policy is usually only a couple of hundred dollars, but if tragedy strikes you will be glad you have it, as it could save you from financial ruin. It is best to talk to your insurance broker or agent about your concerns as they are the experts in providing you the type of coverage that would protect you.