Parental Liability for Damage Caused by Minor Children

negligence in a car wreck

Parental Liability for Damage Caused by Minor Children

Children and teenagers find all sorts of ways to get themselves in trouble.  Sometimes these activities result in damage to property.  So, if someone under 18 causes damage to property do their parents have to foot the bill?  The answer depends on what caused the damage and how much the damage was.

Damage to Personal Property

If a minor causes damage to property, the first question is whether the child “maliciously or willfully destroy[ed], damag[ed], or defac[ed] real, personal, or mixed property.”  This is a question that a jury may have to decide if the case goes to court.  Generally, these terms should rule out instances where the property damage was a complete accident.
If the minor did maliciously or willfully destroy personal property, then the child’s parents are liable for damages up to $5,000.  There is an exception if the child is in the custody of the Department of Human Services or if the minor is under 13 years old and the damage was an act of graffiti.

Damage Caused by Driving

If a minor causes damage by driving a vehicle, the standard is whether the child was negligent in their action.  This is a lower bar than the damage to property statute above.  The person liable for the minor driver is the person who signed on their driver’s permit.  This will generally be a parent of the child but could be someone else.  This statute could create liability for a parent if they signed the child’s driver’s permit and the child’s negligence caused a car accident.

“Common law” liability for the damage children cause

The two sections above are an overview of the statutes dealing with parent liability.  However, there are common law rules, rules made by courts, that apply to parent liability.  The Arkansas Supreme Court summarized the general rule as follows:

“[W]here the parent (1) has the opportunity and ability to control a minor, and (2) has knowledge of the tendency or proclivity of the minor to commit acts which could normally be expected to cause injury to others, and (3) after having such opportunity, ability and knowledge has failed to exercise reasonable means of controlling the minor or appreciably reduce the likelihood of injury to others because of the minor’s acts, the parent shall be made to respond to those who have been injured by such acts of the minor.”

The idea is that if a parent knows their child has a tendency to cause a certain kind of harm or damage and does not do enough about it, then they can be held liable.


Kirk Joyce is a general practice attorney in Northwest Arkansas who is experienced in personal injury law.  If you would like to meet with him to discuss your case, please contact the Joyce Law Firm to schedule a consultation. 

JoyceLaw Firm was founded in 2002 by Kirk Joyce.  Each of the attorneys at the Joyce Law Firm focus in specific areas of law, including, but not limited to: personal injury, immigration, criminal defense, family law, and business law.  Contact the Joyce Law Firm today at 479-442-5577.  More about Joyce Law Firm