If you are a parent with parental responsibility and your child causes an accident or damages someone’s property you may well feel moral responsibility. But will you also have legal responsibility? In most cases the answer will be no.
As with just about all claims for damages and personal injury under UK law, liability will depend upon whether negligence can be shown. It is usually not possible to show negligence on the part of a child. As children they will not know and cannot be expected to understand the consequences of their actions.
Even should negligence be possible to prove it is likely to be pointless to bring an action against a child for the very real reason that most children have no money or assets to enforce against. A parent will not in usual circumstances be responsible for a judgment obtained against a child. The only exception could be when an older child is expected to come into money as a judgment can usually be enforced for up to six years.
Although a parent may not be responsible for damage caused by their child they may be held legally liable if they have been negligent in caring for or controlling the child. There is a duty on a parent or person caring for a child to exercise proper control over that child. If it can be shown that the accident and resulting damage was caused by a lack of control the person in charge of the child could be personally liable.
The courts have said that there is no absolute duty to prevent a child from causing an accident or damage. There is only a duty not to be negligent and a parent is not negligent unless they fail to do something which a reasonably prudent parent would do.
In any question concerning the duty to care for a child the age of the child is likely to be central. A very young child would involve a higher standard of care and supervision by a prudent parent. They would not be expected to be allowed out unaccompanied but it would not be expected that the same restriction would apply to an older or teenaged child.
The responsibility of a parent to supervise a child in their care will always depend on the individual facts and there are few cases where the courts have sought to set down guide lines defining the standard of care to be expected.
Very often if a claim is made relating to a child it will be dealt with under the family’s insurance policy. These will usually cover all family members and it is therefore not necessarily to argue who is liable and the nature of that liability.