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Holding Parents Responsible for their Children's Conduct: How Far Do We Go?

The idea of parents being held responsible for their children's actions is not a new one. Courts can fine parents--and in extreme cases even jail them--for the truancy of their children. Courts also hold parents accountable when their children hold parties on their property that get out of hand, disturb the peace, involve underage drinking, etc. But in a dramatic twist on parental accountability, a Court in New Jersey is set to decide whether parents should be liable in civil court for the murder their 15 year old son committed. (The son pled guilty to aggravated manslaughter and is serving a 17 year sentence.)

The father of the murdered 12 year old girl filed a lawsuit in civil court against the parents of the 15 year old who committed the murder alleging negligent supervision and wrongful death. At the heart of the claims is the idea that the parents knew or should have known that their son had been engaging in criminal behavior before the murder, and that leaving him unsupervised and therefore free to get into trouble was at the very least negligence on their part. Another basis for extending liability to the parents is the allegation that their son had been violent prior to the murder, supposedly due to witnessing domestic violence in the home.

When a child has already been held accountable criminally, in this case, is holding the parents liable as well justified? Most courts agree that if parents knew of previous similar bad behavior by the child (knew or should have known), and had the ability and opportunity to control the behavior at issue but did not, then the parents were negligent and can be held liable. This kind of vicarious liability has wide-reaching implications, from handing car keys to your teenager even though you have witnessed him driving recklessly to allowing your teen to have a party while you go to dinner and the movies, despite knowing that some of her friends tend to get out of hand. Little decisions can have big consequences, whether you made the decisions or are suffering because of them. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to contact our office.

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Thomas Law Firm
Located at 945 East Paces Ferry Road, Resurgens Plaza, GA 30326.

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