Suing Parents For Damage Caused By Their Children

The Parental Responsibility Act was enacted in May 2000. This Act makes it possible for parents to be sued for damage or losses caused by their minor children: “where a child takes, damages or destroys property, an owner or a person entitled to possession of the property may bring an action in Small Claims Court against a parent of the child to recover damages.” The maximum claim is currently $10,000.00.

The rationale behind the Act was to encourage parents to teach respect for the law and to be more responsible in monitoring their children’s behaviour.

The Act imposes liability on the parent on proof that the child has committed the damage unless the parents can satisfy the court that they were supervising the child appropriately. This means that the onus is on the parent to show why they should not be found liable. The Act sets out ten factors that the court must take into account:

  • The child’s age;
  • The child’s prior conduct;
  • The potential danger of the activity;
  • The physical or mental capacity of the child;
  • Any psychological or medical disorders of the child;
  • Whether the child was under direct supervision of the parent at the time; and if not,
  • Whether the parents acted unreasonably in failing to make reasonable arrangements for the child’s supervision;
  • Whether the parent has sought to improve parenting skills;
  • Whether the parent has sought professional assistance for the child designed to discourage the activity; and
  • Any other matter the court considers relevant to the particular case.

To date, only one case has been reported as having gone to trial. This trial was held in London, Ontario in May, 2002. During the summer vacation, a fourteen year old boy babysat a 10 year old boy. One day they broke into a nearby home and stole some valuables. The Plaintiffs argued that it was unreasonable to put a 14 year old in charge of a 10 year old with no adult supervision. The judge disagreed based on the fact that the older child had looked after the younger for some 7 weeks prior to the break-in and neither had been involved in any problematic behaviour during that time. Furthermore, the older child had frequently been left alone before with no problem. In dismissing the claims against the parents of both boys, the judge said that the standard imposed by the Act was that of “reasonableness, not perfection.”

Following this decision, very few Claims of this nature have been pursued. This can likely be attributed to a general recognition that the Deputy Justices that preside in Small Claims would be hesitant to pass judgment on whether or not a defendant’s past decisions as a parent are those of a responsible parent.

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