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Children’s actions, parents’ liability


Cecil McCarthy

Children’s actions, parents’ liability

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Last Friday, I had a very interesting session with teachers of Foundation School as we looked at some legal issues in education.
One issue that arose was whether parents could be held liable if their child caused injury to another child or to a teacher or if the child damaged property.
The issue of injury or damage caused by children is a recurring theme on my visits to schools to discuss legal issues.
The issue of liability of parents for the torts of their children has been described in one of the leading textbooks on this area of the law – Winfield & Jolowicz on Tort – in the following words:
“A parent or guardian is not in general liable for the torts of a child; but to this there are two exceptions. First, where the child is employed by his parent and commits a tort in the course of employment, the parent is vicariously responsible just as he would be for the tort of any other servant of his. Secondly, the parent will be liable if the child’s torts were due to the parent’s negligent control of the child in respect of the act that caused the injury, or if the parent expressly authorised the commission of the tort, or possibly if he ratified the child’s act.” (15th Edition, p. 833).
It is submitted that the above statement of the law in England also accurately reflects the current legal position in Barbados with respect to the torts of minors.
It is recommended that laws be passed to compensate teachers and other people who suffer loss as a result of (at the very least) the intentional torts of children. There are ample precedents that we can use for the crafting of such legislation.
When a child causes physical injury to a teacher or damages his property through his deliberate acts, I suspect most people believe that it is the responsibility of the parents of the child to compensate the injured. However, there is no law which compels the parent to so act.
Of course, one can argue that the parent is innocent of wrongdoing; but so is the teacher who is the one that suffers the injury and loss. As is often the case, the law has to choose which of two “innocent” parties should bear the burden of the loss.
In the case under discussion, to the extent that the parent has primary responsibility for the discipline and shaping of the character of the child it is arguable that he ought to bear the burden of the consequences of his child’s action. It may be that an amending piece of legislation should provide for limits on the amount compensation for which a parent should be liable as in the case of criminal matters in which a court is currently able to demand compensation from a parent.
But to the extent that in the absence of criminal prosecution, teachers have no legally enforceable means of redress, it seems to me that they are being asked be bear another burden of responsibility for actions not of their own making in a society in which they are often taken for granted.
Some countries have responded by passing parental liability statutes which render parents liable for actions of their children. This is the case in the United States where almost all states have enacted legislation of some sort rendering parents liable.
Under these statutes, parents may he held liable for, among other things, personal injury, property damage, vandalism and shoplifting. In most cases, the laws limit the amount of compensation that a parent can be asked to pay.
An example of the provisions in such a statute is that passed in the Canadian province of British Columbia recently.
Under the statute, if “a child intentionally takes, damages or destroys property of another person, a parent of the child is liable for the loss of or damage to the property experienced as a result by an owner and by a person legally entitled to possession of the property”.
It submitted that the time has come for us to implement similar legislation.

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