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What makes someone a good or bad parent? That question has been heavily debated for decades, and yet there’s still no definitive answer. The laws of our country, however, attempt to address when parents and guardians can be held legally responsible for their negligent actions.
In the US, civil lawsuits and personal injury claims can be started against the parents, guardians or caretakers of a minor child for something called “negligent supervision.” Negligent supervision of a minor child can be brought against a defendant in one of two scenarios:
- When a child is harmed due to improper care from the parent or caregiver; or
- When the child intentionally harms another without intervention of the adult responsible for them.
If your child was injured in an accident or if you’re being blamed for the actions of a child under your care, we strongly recommend you schedule a consultation with a personal injury attorney near you.
In the meantime, continue reading to learn about the liability connected to negligent supervision of minor children claims.
Who is liable for negligent supervision claims?
Negligent supervision claims can be raised in any setting. Whoever was watching the child when an accident occurred to the child or when the child caused harm can be sued. As a result, the following individuals can be held responsible in a negligent supervision case:
- Parents (biological, adoptive, foster, stepparents)
- School officials
- Daycare workers
- Youth group leaders
- Church leaders
- Camp counselors
- Any family member responsible for the guardianship of the child, even in a temporary situation
- Any employee responsible for the care and well-being of children
Because this is a broad list, it’s clear that anyone placed in charge of a minor child could face civil liability for any harm the child experiences or causes.
Common examples of negligent supervision of a child
Negligent supervision accidents can happen anywhere. However, accidents with children tend have many elements in common. Examples of negligent supervision include:
- Failure to secure dangerous items (including guns, chemicals, weapons, poisonous substances, etc.)
- Allowing the child to use items unsuitable for children (such as equipment, vehicles, machinery, etc.)
- Failure to protect the child from physical harm or emotional harm from another child, animal or other known threat
- Failure to protect the child from threats in their surroundings (such as heavy traffic, pools, open windows, etc.)
- Improper care of a sick or injured child
Most of the above circumstances could certainly be subjective depending on the age of the child, what happened, etc. If you believe you have a negligent supervision claim or you’re being wrongly sued for your actions, it’s strongly encouraged that you consult with a personal injury attorney.
Daycare workers and school personnel are particularly at risk of negligent supervision lawsuits. Since they are employed to care for children, they can face liability for allowing children to get hurt in accidents, such as falls or playground accidents. They can also be considered at fault if they ignore symptoms that a child is sick. If you have questions as to whether your daycare or school is liable for injuries to your child, speaking with a personal injury lawyer will help you decide if you want to pursue a case.
How to prove negligent supervision
Negligent supervision is a fairly straightforward negligence claim. Like other negligence cases, there are four elements that must be proven in order for a plaintiff to recover damages:
4 Questions to Determine If Your Personal Injury Case Involves Negligence:
- Did a duty of care exist?
- Can it be proven that the duty of care was breached?
- Did that breach cause an injury?
- Did that injury lead to monetary loss?
All 4 elements must be in play before a claim of negligence can be pursued.
In negligent supervision claims, there must be a sense of an accepted responsibility for the actions of the child. In other words, the person being held accountable reasonably knew that they were in charge of protecting the child or preventing the child from harming others. In most cases, such as accidents that happen at school or daycare, this element is easy to prove. Even if the caregiver denies having responsibility for the child, the judge or jury will consider if a “reasonable person” would have known they were in charge of supervision.
2. Breach of duty
A breach of duty occurs in cases when the responsible guardian or caregiver failed to give the child the proper attention and supervision required. Factors such as the age of the child and the specific nature of the accident can vary greatly, with some breaches of duty being more obvious than others. It’s up to you or your attorney to collect whatever evidence in necessary to sway the judge or jury in your favor.
The causation element of negligence establishes that the defendant’s actions were what caused the accident to happen. Typically, it’s said that the accident was “foreseeable” and that the defendant should have done more to prevent the resulting harm. In most personal injury claims, causation is the trickiest element to prove.
In negligent supervision claims, however, many of the accidents satisfy this criteria easily. Keeping a gun in an unsafe container accessible to children or failing to have proper pool safety equipment, for instance, are situations where causation will be satisfied fairly quickly. If the parent, guardian or supervisor was inattentive or careless to what the child was doing, there’s likely to be evidence of causation.
4. Injury or harm
The last criteria of negligent supervision of a child is also fairly easy to satisfy. A plaintiff can’t file a lawsuit unless they have undergone some form of injury or harm. This harm can be physical, emotional or financial. As long as the child was injured (or they harmed someone else), this element will be established.
If your child was in the care of someone else when they suffered a preventable accident, your personal injury attorney will try to prove these four elements in order to recover damages. The type of damages a person can receive vary by state, but medical bills and compensation for the suffering of the child are almost always awarded when a defendant is found to have committed negligent supervision.
Parental responsibility laws for when the child causes harm
Many parents are shocked when their child’s actions lead to liability and damages. Whenever a child intentionally causes physical harm to a person or property, the parent can typically be held responsible for damages. Though each state’s laws vary, parents are generally liable if their child acts “maliciously or willfully.” Vandalism, shoplifting and acts of aggression are some of the common acts specifically addressed by statutes throughout the US. A plaintiff can sue the parents of a child, even if the parent was unaware that their child was going to commit a crime.
The specific act and the age of the child will be considered before a verdict is rendered, but children who are 10 years or older are generally considered old enough to consider the consequences of their own actions. When it comes to calculating damages, each state has its own restrictions. Though some states limit how much a parent or legal guardian will be responsible to pay, other states have no maximum amount.
Lastly, parents may already be concerned for their child driving, but there are financial penalties connected to teen driving as well. Most states hold the parents responsible for paying damages if their minor child drives in a “reckless or negligent” manner. This is true even if the child had their license or learner’s permit or used the parents’ car without permission. Considering how many states allow a parent or legal guardian to be sued in a personal injury lawsuit if their child gets in a car accident, investing in some private driving lessons may not be a bad idea!
See our guide Choosing a personal injury attorney.