Are Parents Responsible for Property Damage Caused by Their Children?

Broken glass       The saying goes that “kids will do the darnedest things,” and sometimes—especially with mischievous teens—this can include things like spray-painting walls, breaking windows and mailboxes, damaging electronics, or keying cars.  Besides being potential crimes, such activities may cause damage to property that is difficult and expensive to repair.   In Alabama, this type of activity can expose the parents and guardians of the minor children who caused the damage to legal liability for the cost of repairing or replacing any damaged property.

       Generally speaking, parents are not legally responsible for acts committed by their minor children, unless the parents were themselves somehow involved in causing the incident, such as when parents negligently entrust something like a car or firearm to a young person who is not responsible enough to handle it safely.  However, if a minor child conducts certain intentional acts, such as vandalism or graffiti, his or her parents will be financially responsible for any resulting damage.   Under Alabama’s Parental Responsibility Act, Alabama Code § 6-5-380, parents can be held legally liable for up to $1,000 in property damage caused by their child, plus legal fees and court costs.  This law applies not only to parents, but to any relative, legal guardian, or other adult who has care or control of the minor and with whom the child lives.  The law does not apply to foster parents and foster children, however.

       The Parental Responsibility Act applies to any property damage caused by the intentional, willful, or malicious acts of a minor child who is under 18 years of age.  It covers “real property” such as homes or buildings, and “personal property” such as automobiles, computers, or personal effects.  The law applies regardless of whether or not the property is owned by an individual person, a business, a private organization, a government entity (such as a school or municipal building), or even the State of Alabama itself.  Under the Act, the victim is entitled to compensation—from the child’s adult parent or guardian—for up to $1,000 worth of property damage plus the costs of bringing the action against the minor child and their parent or guardian.  The child, however, may be personally responsible for any other damage beyond the $1,000 covered under the Parental Responsibility Act, and if the parent or guardian directly contributed to the incident, such as negligently entrusting a car to the minor, then the adult’s legal liability would not be capped by the Act, either.

       Depending on the nature of the incident and the extent of the property damage, it may be possible to pursue a claim under the Parental Responsibility Act in Small Claims or District Court, where the case would be heard at a bench trial by a judge, instead of in front of a full jury.  At Siniard, Timberlake & League, our attorneys are familiar with the law and legal procedures surrounding the Parental Responsibility Act.  If you have suffered property damage due to the malicious acts of a minor, we can answer your questions and make sure you know your rights.  We can help.