When Does Parental Liability Apply in an Accident Case?

When does parental liability apply in an accident case? Every state has its own laws when it comes to parental liability in a civil matter. In the state of Washington, it is referred to as the Parental Responsibility Law.

This law is not much different than from other states, and most states have some form of parental responsibility law or requirement. Under this law, parents could be held liable for the damages or injuries caused by their minor. However, exceptional circumstances apply, and not all injury or accident cases resulting from a minor will result in a parental liability lawsuit.

Understanding Washington’s Parental Responsibility Law

The parental responsibility law in Washington comes from Revised Code of Washington Section 4.24.190. Under this statute, a civil lawsuit can be placed against parents based on acts committed by their minor child, as long as the child is under 18 years old and lived with the parent(s) at the time of the alleged act.

Through Section 4.24.190, an attorney could form the basis of a civil lawsuit against the parent or legal guardian if:

  • The child maliciously or willfully destroyed something belonging to another person.
  • The child maliciously or willfully inflicted injury on another person.

The key to understanding this is that parents are only liable when the conduct of their child was willful or malicious in nature. When a child causes a car accident out of negligence, the act is not an intentional act; therefore, the parent or legal guardian may not be liable in court.

Minors must do something on purpose with a disregard for the consequences. Essentially, they must know that they could harm another person, yet still ignore that fact when carrying out their acts.

Carelessness and recklessness are not always grounds for a parental liability claim, which is why it is important that any victims of an act committed by a minor look for options through a consultation with a personal injury attorney. An attorney can help determine if parental liability applies, and can still act to ensure compensation – regardless of whether the legal guardians can be held liable or not.

Who Can File a Suit Against a Parent for a Child’s Actions?

Under the statute, there are no limits on who has the right to file a lawsuit against a parent over the harm that a minor has caused. Therefore, if a child’s willful or malicious intent injures you, you may be able to file a suit and seek compensation in court. A parent could be sued by an individual, government entity, corporation, business, or private organization.

The Financial Limitation

Like most parental reasonability laws, Washington does use a cap on how much the parent may be liable for injuries. Under the statute, the parent is responsible for no more than $5,000 for destruction to property or the person.

Exceptions to the Statute

There are instances where a child’s actions could still be the fault of the parents. Common law negligence, for example, means that the responsibility will fall on the parents if they knew that the child had dangerous tendencies and was a risk to cause injury to others.

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