Parents understand that children and teenagers sometimes engage in impulsive behaviors and often act without thinking. Teenagers also tend to enjoy rebelling against authority and employing outrageous behaviors to impress their friends. Studies show that the human brain isn’t completely matured beyond childhood impulsive behaviors until at least the mid-20s, but how long are parents legally responsible for the actions of their offspring, and just what does this legal responsibility entail?
Even when children aren’t held to account in criminal law, parents may be liable in civil cases when children engage in reckless behavior or wrongdoing.
Understanding Colorado’s 3 Categories of Damages in Parental Responsibility Law
Colorado’s age of majority for children is age 18 when children become adults in the eyes of the law. Until that age, adults hold parental responsibility that leaves them financially liable when their children’s actions cause financial damages to others. In Colorado, the parental responsibility laws primarily refer to the following 3 points of law:
- Property damage
- Bodily injury
In some cases, the courts may consider parents or legal guardians negligent if they’re aware that their child is behaving recklessly or in ways that endanger the property or physical well-being of others and do not take steps to address the problem.
Property Damage and Parental Responsibility Laws in Colorado
Parents or legal guardians of children under age 18 are responsible for any property damage willfully caused by a minor child. Parents are financially liable if a child destroys, vandalizes, or damages property including:
- Real property like homes, buildings, structures, lawns, trees, or crops
- Personal property like motor vehicles, bicycles, furniture, or artwork
- Property owned by individuals, businesses, school districts, or state and local government property such as park equipment or traffic signs and signals
Parents must pay for repairs or replacement for damages up to $3,500 per victim according to Colorado parental responsibility laws. They’re also responsible for paying court costs and typically must pay the criminal juvenile defense attorney fees.
Parental Responsibility for Shoplifting and Theft
A child’s parents or legal guardians are responsible for paying damages for shoplifting or theft in the amount of the actual value of the stolen property. Unlike paying for property damage, the state does not place a cap on the amount parents must pay for stolen property. They may face additional penalties to the property owner as well as the cost of the item.
Parents are Liable for Bodily Injuries Committed by their Children
Colorado’s parental responsibility laws hold parents liable when their child injures another person, whether the injury is willful or accidental. For example, if a 16-year-old driver has a car accident and injures another driver or a passenger in their car, the parents are liable under personal injury law to pay the damages. If a child intentionally hurts another, such as harming another child at school in a fight, parents are liable for damages such as medical expenses and pain and suffering.
Like property damage, the state caps the amount parents must pay for personal injury claims at $3,500 per injured person.
It’s important to understand parental responsibility laws. While it’s true that young children are not held criminally responsible for some acts of recklessness or wrongdoing, the parents are still held responsible in civil court.