By: William “Bill” Hurst
Imagine a situation where a sixteen year old child has just started driving and they negligently rear-end your car as you are slowing to pull into your driveway and take out your mailbox. In this accident they strike your car (auto), your mailbox (property), and you have a concussion (personal injury) all as a result of the accident. Are the child’s parents liable for these damages?
The answer to that question under common law would be no. Many states, however, have developed statutory law on parental liability for their child’s actions. This article will discuss the statutory law governing parental responsibility/liability for auto damage, property damage, and personal injury in Indiana and surround states (Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Kentucky). It is important to remember two things:
1) Unless a statute or case law says otherwise, a parent is not liable for their child’s negligence.
2) States may have developed case law on certain aspects of law not covered by statutes and further research may be necessary to determine the exact limits on parental liability.
Indiana Parental Liability Laws
Indiana Code § 9-24-9-4 provides that any parent who signs their minor child’s license application is liable for damage caused by the minor child’s negligent operation of a motor vehicle. The statute also provides that a parent may file to have the license cancelled which releases their liability and the parent is also excused from liability when the child turns 18. So in Indiana, the parent would be liable for all the damage caused in the hypothetical accident, including the property damage and personal injury resulting from their minor child’s operation of a motor vehicle, if they signed the application of license.
Indiana Code § 34-31-4-1 provides that a parent is only liable for up to $5,000 “in actual damages arising from harm to a person or damage to property knowingly, intentionally, or recklessly caused by the parent’s child” so long as the parent has custody of the child and the child is living with the parent. This normally is not involved in car crash cases and never when the child was merely negligent. The only exception to the limit on liability, laid out in Indiana Code § 34-31-4-2, is if the child is involved in a gang and the parent is benefitting or encouraging the gang activity which causes the damage or injury. So in the case of the hypothetical the parent would only be liable for $5,000 worth of property damage and personal injury expenses if the child’s action were intentional, or reckless. In this case however, it is reasonable to assume a car accident is a negligence claim in which case the liability of the parent would not be limited due to § 9-24-9-4 which imputes all liability for damages and injury caused by a minor child in an auto accident to the parent.
Illinois Parental Liability Laws
Illinois does not have a statute regulating parental liability for damaged caused by a minor child driving a car. Illinois case law states that a parent is not liable for their child’s torts simply due to the parent-child relationship.1 There may be exception to this general rule in Illinois case law such as negligent supervision, but that is outside the scope of this article and would need to be further researched by an experienced attorney.
Under 740 ILCS 115/1-5 a parent is liable for a maximum of $20,000 per occurrence in property damage or personal injury caused by the wilful or wanton acts of their minor child if it is the first occurrence of such behavior by the child and up to $30,000 if the child has shown a pattern or practice of wilful misconduct. Again, this does not include parental liability for damage or injury caused negligently by the child, so in the case of our hypothetical you would not be able to recover damages from the child’s parent in relation to the negligently caused accident.
Michigan Parental Liability Laws
Michigan does not have any statutory law on parental liability for their child’s operation of a motor vehicle. In Michigan, “At common law, parents were not liable for the conduct of their children.” 2 Like Illinois, this means the parent is not liable for damages caused by their minor child’s negligent driving. In this case it would be necessary to look at case law to determine if any parental liability exists.
Michigan Complied Law § 600.2913 limits parental liability for their child’s property damage and personal injury to $2,500 if the child has acted wilfully or wantonly. Again, In the case of negligently caused damage the parent would not be liable unless Michigan case law says otherwise.
Ohio Parental Liability Laws
Ohio Revised Code § 3507.07 imputes any liability for damage which is caused negligently, wilfully, or wantonly by a minor while driving a motor vehicle to the person who signs the minor child’s license application. Similar to Indiana, in the case of the hypothetical the parents of the child, or whomever signed the child’s license application would be liable to you for the damages caused by the accident.
Ohio Revised Code § 3109.09 limits parental liability for property damaged caused by the wilful actions of the minor to $10,000. So again, there is no parental liability for damage caused negligently by the child, but if the child wilfully causes the damage then the limit of parental liability is $10,000. In the case of the hypothetical the parent would be liable for the damage to your mailbox, but only because of § 3507.07 discussed above.
Ohio Revised Code § 3109.10 limits parental liability for injuries caused by the minor’s malicious assault to $10,000. So if someone’s child was to beat you up, the parent’s liability to you would only be a maximum of $10,000 no matter what your injuries. Personal injury liability in general is not imputed to the parent, so the parent would not normally be liable for personal injury negligently caused by their child, but again § 3507.07 imputes all liability for injury or damage caused by the child’s negligent driving to the parent, so the parent would be liable for the personal injury expenses resulting from a car accident caused by their child.
Kentucky Parental Liability Laws
Kentucky Revised Statutes § 186.590 imputes all liability for damages negligently caused by a minor child driving an automobile to the person who signed the license application. So if you were in Kentucky and the hypothetical child hit you and damaged your mailbox the parents would be liable for the entirety of the damages.
Kentucky Revised Statutes § 405.025 limits parental liability for any property damage wilfully caused by their minor child to $2,500 per occurrence and $10,000 in the aggregate. So, if the minor child had come over and beat your car with a baseball bat, not hit your car, the parent would only be liable for $2,500 in damages, but since the accident was caused by the child’s negligent driving §186.590 applies and the parent is liable for all damage and personal injuries.
As you can see based on the statutory law of Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Kentucky parental liability varies from state to state. Additionally, case law has most likely developed in this area in each state which may add to or interpret the statutory law differently. Because of this it is important to contact an experienced personal injury attorney right away if you are involved in any accident.
1 Bishop v. Morich, 250 Ill.App.3d 366, 370 (Ill. App. Ct 1993)
2 McKinney v. Caball, 40 Mich.App. 389 (Mich. Ct. App. 1972)