You may have heard the phrase, “a son shall not suffer for the iniquity of their father,” but could the reverse and opposite of this saying really be true? That a parent (natural or adoptive) may suffer for the iniquity of their child? In short, yes.
Picture it: your seven-year-old son, Tommy, just got a new baseball and baseball bat for his birthday. He’s out in the yard playing with them when his neighborhood rival, Timmy, starts teasing him from across the street. Tommy, bat and baseball in hand, tosses up the baseball and swings hoping the incoming baseball scares Timmy away. Instead, the ball goes sailing over Timmy’s head and crashes through Mr. Smith’s window. Uh-oh! Who will be responsible for the damage to Mr. Smith’s window?
Under Pennsylvania law, parents can be held liable for injuries and damages caused by their children who are under the age of 18. The governing statute provides that if a child under the age of 18 is found liable of a tortious act—that is, a willful act that causes damage or injury—then it is the child’s parent(s) who will be liable to the victim who incurred injury or damage as a result of the child’s act. 23 Pa.C.S. § 5501 et. seq. An injury can include any of the following:
Physical, bodily injury to a person;
Destruction or loss of property.
Going back to our scenario, Tommy’s parents will be responsible for the damage to Mr. Smith’s window. But what if the baseball not only crashed through the window, but also broke Mr. Smith’s vase that was worth $20,000? Well, Tommy’s parents can breathe a brief sigh of relief.
Parents of those “Terrible Twos,” “Terrifying Teens” or any age in between can rest assured that there are limits on the amount a victim can recover from you under this statute. Damages are restricted to $1,000 for any injuries suffered by one person and $2,500 for any injuries suffered by more than one person. It is important to note that just because damages are capped under this particular statute, that does not mean that a victim may not be able to recover from a child’s parent(s) through other legal methods. Therefore, it is still possible that Tommy’s parents will also be responsible for the damage to Mr. Smith’s vase.
While our example with Tommy and his baseball is a relatively innocent example, you can see just how crucial it is—particularly in today’s world—to remain involved and vigilant when it comes to your children. As you now understand, parents have the legal duty to exercise the ability to control their minor children. If that legal duty is breached, you—the parent—may be liable to suffer in more ways than one for the iniquity of your minor child.