Parental liability: Our 17-year-old crashed our car and injured someone. Are we liable?

crashed cars in snowy weather

At issue is whether parents can be held responsible when a child breaks the law. 

As parents, we do our best to raise children who are safe, conscientious, and responsible human beings. But sometimes, whether due to random circumstances or simply poor choices, our kids can fall into sticky situations. Aside from being concerned about the long-term effects on our child's well-being, it's natural to wonder where the parents' legal responsibility begins and ends when a child breaks the law. If your child has an auto accident and injures someone, it's essential that you work with a trusted attorney to fully understand the legal implications and know whether you can be liable for their actions. 

Here's what the law says about parental liability

An internet search of parental liability might be your first move after an incident occurs, but legal issues involving children can be complex, which is just one of many reasons why consulting with a trusted attorney should be your next move.  

“When your child has broken the law or injured someone, you can gain peace of mind through working with an experienced attorney," said Johns, Flaherty & Collins attorney Brian Weber. “They can help you understand the law and make a significant difference in the legal outcome.”

He advises to take particular care to consult with an attorney who concentrates in the practice area most related to the incident, such as a criminal defense or personal injury lawyer.

“Having secured legal representation, you'll be better prepared to navigate your parental rights and legal responsibilities,” said Weber.

Parental responsibility statutes have been in effect in the United States for at least a century, which means parents or legal guardians can be held liable for the crimes committed by children in their care. In Wisconsin, parents can be held financially responsible for acts by a child that are deemed willful, malicious, or wanton. This can include damage to property, stolen property, or personal injury. However, damages caused by sheer carelessness rather than purposeful actions are regarded differently by Wisconsin law and may not result in parental liability. 

Depending on the circumstances, financial liability caps for parental responsibility may apply, but overall, parents or guardians of a minor child may be expected to pay damages, said Weber. Crimes that endanger schools or students can come with even greater financial penalties of up to $20,000 for any one act. 

"It's also important to note that parents who know of a child's potentially dangerous predispositions can be deemed responsible for harm caused by their child if it's determined they provided insufficient supervision," said Weber.

"Also, parents or guardians can also be held liable for damages caused by a child who is negligent or intentionally causes injury or other harm while behind the wheel," added Weber.

Questions about parental liability for a child's legal issues? 

If you are the parent or guardian of a child facing legal issues, it's essential to understand your child's rights and responsibilities, as well as your own. The ramifications of trying to navigate these legal issues on your own can be immense, so it's in your best interest to work with a trusted attorney. If your child is in trouble with the law, and you have questions about your responsibility for damages as a parent, we can help. Contact us to learn more about your legal options related to parental liability. 



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