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Can Parents be Held Liable for Their Children’s Actions?

June 24, 2020

By van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim

When pondering the question of whether parents can be held liable for the actions of their children, the offense in question is typically a minor one, such as bullying or shoplifting. Now, a couple in Philadelphia is seeking to hold the parents of a young man liable for the wrongful death of their son.

In July of 2017, the young man brought four men to his family’s farm, claiming that he would sell them marijuana. Once on the farm, the young man killed the men and buried them on the property. He is now serving four life sentences consecutively. In the most recent news, all four families of the victims are seeking damages for wrongful death. These lawsuits claim that the parents were aware of their son’s mental health issues, and that they did not take reasonable care when allowing their son access to firearms stored on the farm.

The story is a very interesting one, as it once again raises the question of whether parents should be held liable for the actions of their children.

The Rules of Common Law

Traditionally, common law dictated that parents could not be held liable for every intentional or careless action of their child. The courts typically required something more than mere parentage to hold parents liable. For example, if the parents knew of the child’s propensity to act in a harmful way and did not prevent the child from doing so, that may be enough to indicate negligence. However, the plaintiff would have to present solid evidence and proof of the parent’s knowledge that the child may harm someone.

Modern Law

The current Pennsylvania statute does allow for victims of a willful, tortious act to hold parents liable for that child’s actions. In order to be liable, the parents must have custody or control of the child, although any parent that has deserted a child can also be held liable for their tortious acts.

In most cases, the child that committed the tortious act is a minor. The young man who committed the murders was 20 years old, but it does appear as though he was living with his parents. Due to the fact that the lawsuit also claims that he had mental health issues, there may be an argument that due to an incapacity, his parents still had custody.

Our Pennsylvania Personal Injury Lawyers can Help with Complex Parental Liability Cases

While it is possible to hold parents liable for the actions of their child in Pennsylvania, these cases are not easy. At van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim, our Allentown personal injury lawyers can help. Our experienced attorneys understand the challenges that arise in these cases, and how to overcome them to give you the best chance of a positive outcome. Call us today at (215) 486-0123 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.


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