A child at a pool throws a water balloon out of the pool area and hits a passing car causing damage to the driver and his car. Are the parents of the child liable for the child’s acts?
Alabama recognizes that infancy, or one’s position as a minor, is no defense for an action in tort. This is particularly the case where an intentional tort has been committed. The recognition of this liability has one major flaw, that is, minors generally have insufficient assets to satisfy a claim. As a result, a plaintiff will typically look to the parent(s) to cover any action.
Generally, the parent-child relationship, by itself, is insufficient to hold a parent liable beyond a $1,000 statutory provision. The Alabama Code § 6-5-380(a) provides that a person “having custody and control of an individual under 18 years of age” can be held liable in an amount not to exceed $1,000. (1975). This limitation does not affect a situation where the parent has ratified the minor’s action or is considered negligent for failing to control the child’s actions that resulted in danger or damage to others. In such cases, liability may extend to the actual amount of the claim for recovery.
To establish a case against a parent for liability (vicarious) based on the acts of a child of which they have control or custody, four(4) things must be provided.
First, the child must have been of the age and condition of dependency that would satisfy statutory requirements of imposing liability.
Second, the relationship of the parent must be of the character to suggest custody that is sufficient to fulfill any statutory requirements.
Third, the minor child committed a criminal, tortious, or otherwise wrongful act, typically characterized by willful or malicious intent, falling within the scope of the parental responsibility statute.
Finally, as a result of the child’s acts, the plaintiff suffered an injury compensable under the terms of the parental responsibility statute.
It is important to note, since liability under a parental responsibility statute is vicarious, a plaintiff does not have to prove that the defendant was negligent or otherwise personally culpable in permitting the child to commit the injurious act complained of.
In the case question we started with, what’s the outcome? The parents are probably liable, but their liability would be limited by statute. The statutory provision provides for a maximum recovery of $1,000 based on the determination of a custody relationship with the parent and nothing more. Beyond this amount the plaintiff would be required to show that the parent either ratified the actions of the minor or was negligent in the supervision of same. If the parent was not at the pool, this would be a difficult facet of the case to prove.
Under the general requirements of the “parental liability act”, there should be no problem showing that the minor was in the position of dependency on the parent and that a custodial relationship existed. In addition, it seems obvious that the actions of the minor were intentional and malicious in nature. Finally, damages resulting from the actions of the minor are very straightforward.