When can a parent be held liable for the injuries caused by their children? In New York, the answer is, rarely. As a general rule, parents are not going to be held legally responsible for the negligent acts of their children. Exceptions exist, however, and parents should know about these exceptions. In New York, a parent will be responsible for their child’s negligence (1) if the child was also an employee of the parent and the injury occurred in the scope of the child’s employment duties; or (2) if the parent negligently "entrusted a dangerous instrumentality" to the child (e.g.- gave a 6 year old a loaded gun, or lent Dad’s sports car to an unlicensed, underage child driver, etc.); or (3) where the parent negligently failed to take reasonable steps to stop the child from engaging in vicious conduct when the parent had good reason to know the child was going to engage in that particular bad conduct; or (4) when the parent becomes like a participant in the negligent act by affirmatively consenting to the bad conduct or ratifying it and accepting the fruits of it.
These rules were put to the test recently in a New York Supreme Court case entitled Regis v. Condoleo, decided October 27,2008, by Nassau County Justice Ute Wolff Lally.
In Condoleo, the injured party was a driver of a car who was struck by a fireworks-like device (a small model rocket engine souped up with sparklers). When the driver stopped at a stop sign, a group of young boys shot off the model rocket engine and it flew through her open car window and into her face. The injured driver sued the boys and their parents. The Court dismissed the parents from the case, however, because there was no evidence the parents supplied the fireworks or approved of their use. It was not enough to merely show the parents had seen the boys use fireworks before, or had, in the past, taken fireworks away from them.
Although parents are generally not responsible for the negligent acts of their child, in New York, the owner of a car is legally responsible for the negligent acts of any driver driving that car with the owner’s permission. So, if you lend your car to your friend, your brother or your child, and they cause an accident, in New York you are responsible for that driver’s negligence. Of course, the driver is also responsible. Fortunately, the owner’s automobile liability insurance covers both the driver and the owner for the negligent acts of the driver. New York is one of the few states that will hold the owner responsible for any negligence of the driver, even if the owner was not himself/herself negligent.