Are you liable when your children hurt someone or do damage to property? The answer depends on the facts and circumstances. In Illinois there is a law, 740 ILCS 115, known as the “Parental Responsibility Law,” that dictates when parents are considered to be legally responsible for personal injury and other harm caused by the actions of their children.
Under the law, parents and “legal guardians” of minors in Illinois have potential liability for damages by their children. In this case, a legal guardian means “a person appointed guardian, or given custody, of a minor by a circuit court of the State,” not an adult who has merely been appointed “guardian” by a juvenile court.
Under the law, a minor is “above the age of 11 years, but not yet 19 years of age,” as long as he or she is un-emancipated. The child must also live with the parent or legal guardian in order for the Illinois Parental Responsibility Law to apply.
For parents who are divorced, this brings up several questions and issues. One is the issue of “custody.” Under the newly-revised Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, the courts now refer to the decision-making issues for the child as the “allocation of parental responsibilities.” One parent may still have most of the decision-making responsibilities, or these responsibilities may be split between the parents.
Determining whether a child is living with you can be an issue as well. “Parenting Time” is the new term for visitation. While children may spend most of their time with one parent, they often now split their time fairly evenly with both.
Does this sound confusing? If a child you are responsible for has gotten into trouble and you are concerned about liability, we can help. The experienced and compassionate Illinois family-law attorneys at Wolfe and Stec Ltd., offer a free consultation and can guide you through the process of dealing with child misconduct and parental liability.
If your child causes injury or damage to another person or entity, the Illinois Parental Responsibility Law says you are not liable if the damage was an accident where the child was merely negligent. You are responsible only if the act was done on purpose. So if the child causes a car accident due to carelessness, you probably are not liable.
Even if you are liable, the Law states parents or legal guardians are liable only for “actual damages” the child caused. This includes expenses like medical bills resulting from injuries caused by an assault or payment for property damage caused by vandalism. You also would be responsible for reasonable attorney’s fees. You would not be liable for non-economic damages like pain and suffering.
There is a maximum cap on your liability as well –$20,000 in actual damages for each person or legal entity for the first occurrence, and $30,000 for any “pattern or practice” of willful or malicious acts, in addition to taxable court costs and attorney’s fees.
However, you’re not off the hook yet. The Law also states that it is not intended to limit the potential liability of parents for their child’s actions “in any other cause of action where the liability of the parent or legal guardian is predicated on a common law basis.” You may still be legally responsible for a child’s actions, even a child under 11, under traditional civil fault principles.
This means that if you know your child has a propensity to act recklessly or carelessly, you are supposed to take reasonable steps to prevent that child from causing foreseeable harm to others. For example, if you know your teenager has already received a DUI, but you allow him or her to take the car to a party where there is alcohol, you could be considered negligent if your child causes a car accident while drunk.
According to the Illinois law, 720 ILCS 5/16-27, if a child is caught shoplifting, a parent or legal guardian may be civilly liable for:
However, you will not be guilty of violating the law if you call for help from the police to remove the underage drinkers and stop the gathering.
Since laws and issues are so complex, it makes sense to seek legal counsel if your children cause injury or property damage. The skilled family-law attorneys at Wolfe & Stec, Ltd., know the courts, the judges, and the laws, and we can guide you through the process. We represent and advise clients in all types of family-law matters.
For a free initial consultation with an experienced and compassionate DuPage County lawyer, contact us online or call 630-305-0222 or 312-388-7882.