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By Jim Adler November 8, 2016

On Halloween morning recently, a 12-year-old Austin boy drove a car which was in a crash. Could his parents be legally liable for damages after their underage child was in such a driving accident?

That depends on the circumstances, but most likely yes. Read on.

This crash occurred about 7:30 a.m. on Oct. 31, 2016 at the intersection of East Riverside Drive and South Pleasant Valley Road in Austin.

Initially, an Austin Police officer had spotted a vehicle weaving in traffic on Springdale Road’s 900 block. Suspecting the driver might be impaired, the officer attempted to pull over the vehicle, but the driver kept on going.

The officer then followed the vehicle onto East Seventh and then South Pleasant Valley Road, during which time it struck another vehicle but kept going. The pursued vehicle then struck a utility pole at Pleasant Valley’s intersection with East Riverside and stopped.

The underage driver was transported for treatment to Dell Children’s Medical Center and is expected to be fine.

He is also expected to be charged with driving while intoxicated, failure to stop and render aid and evading arrest.

Can the boy’s parents be held legally liable for damages caused by his actions? Are they subject to parental liability?

What is Parental Liability?

As for what is parental liability, that indicates parents’ obligation to pay for damages caused by negligent, intentional or criminal acts committed by their child. Under parental liability laws in various states, parents must pay the party harmed by their child’s actions to compensate them financially for their losses.

Each state has its own laws on parental liability for underage accidents causing injuries or damages. Such parental liability customarily ends when the child reaches the age of majority, which in Texas is 18 years old.

Texas Law for Parental Liability

Texas law for parental liability provides a limit of $25,000 of liability for actual property damages due to willful and malicious conduct by a child who is at least 10 years old but is under 18 years old (Texas Fam. Code Ann. § 41.002). On top of the $25,000, liability also includes additional expenses for court costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees.

However, Texas law also imposes unlimited parental liability for property damage caused by the negligent conduct of a minor if the conduct is reasonably attributable to the negligent failure of the parent to exercise a duty of control over the minor, regardless of his or her age (Texas Fam. Code Ann. § 41.001).

In fact, parents also may be held liable for their child’s actions after the age of 18.

For instance, in 2008 a 24-year-old man drove into the living room of an SMU student in his parents’ GMC Yukon. The woman filed a civil lawsuit not only against the driver but also his parents, asserting negligent entrustment of a motor vehicle.

She alleged that the parents knew or should have known that their son was incompetent, reckless of unfit to operate the vehicle when they let him drive it, given his history of serious drug and alcohol abuse problems.

Their son later was sentenced to prison.

Insurance Coverage for Children’s Acts

As for insurance, since renters and homeowners insurance includes property and liability coverage, any wrongful acts of children, and any negligent supervision claims, can be covered even if the act took place away from a policyholder’s home, as in an auto accident.

But parental liability in lawsuits remains. The bottom line is that parents have some responsibility for their child’s actions, including when an underage child is in a driving accident.

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